A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Strange Magic is an animated musical loosely based on Shakepseare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Like a Baz Luhrmann film, the movie -- which George Lucas co-wrote and executive produced -- uses a mix of classic and contemporary pop and rock songs to further the plot. The fairy-themed romance/adventure features more kissing than the typical animated tale (including one male fairy kissing someone other than his bride-to-be on their wedding day), and the violence includes hand-to-hand combat, dueling, sword play, and a kidnapping/hostage situation. Themes center on the idea that love should be based on more than looks, and you shouldn't assume anything based on someone's size or beauty.
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What's the story?
STRANGE MAGIC opens on a fairy princess' doomed wedding day: Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is supposed to marry her betrothed, Roland (Sam Palladio), but she catches him kissing another fairy and calls off the marriage. Meanwhile, on the border of the Fairy Kingdom is a field of primroses that serves as a border between where the fairies live and the Dark Forest, where the Bog King (Alan Cumming) leads a world of goblins, slugs, and other insect-like creatures. He also holds the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) hostage, so she can't make love potion from the primroses. Roland still hopes to marry Marianne -- hopes to be king and run the army -- so he enlists help from Sunny (Elijah Kelley), an elf in love with Marianne's younger sister, Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull). Roland convinces Sunny to sneak into the Dark Forest with a primrose petal and free Sugar Plum for some love potion. Naturally things don't go as planned, and instead the Bog King ends up taking Dawn hostage -- but not before the love potion causes her to fall in love with him.
Is it any good?
Strange Magic doesn't deliver on any level -- as a romance, as a musical, or as a fairy adventure. Some of the Glee-style mash-ups seem like they'd work (Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love" and Beyonce's "Crazy in Love"), but they don't, and others are just head-scratchingly bad ("C'mon Marianne" and "Stronger"). The filmmakers deserve kudos for attempting to expose kids to classic songs they're unfamiliar with in addition to Top 40 fare they've probably heard again and again, but the music feels forced into scenes rather than being seamlessly incorporated.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- George Lucas' involvement, Strange Magic is just too much, trying too hard but underperforming in the end. Some of the characterizations are cringe-worthy (the Bog King's mom -- played by Maya Rudolph -- feels like Fran Drescher-meets-Mrs. Costanza) and the action unexciting. The admittedly uplifting message (love is more than skin deep) is sweet, but Strange Magic is a bizarre story that's unlikely to find a place in your kids' heart.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the use of popular music in Strange Magic. How do the songs tie into the story? Is it a traditional musical? Are there other movies it resembles? Which ones?
If you know the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream, talk about which elements from the movie are like the play and which are original. Is it confusing when a movie is loosely inspired by a play or book but doesn't follow the story closely?
What's the movie's message about looks? Were you expecting certain characters to magically transform into more beautiful creatures?
- In theaters: January 23, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: May 19, 2015
- Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth
- Director: Gary Rydstrom
- Studios: Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some action and scary images
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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