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DVD REVIEW: Lucasfilm’s “Strange Magic”

DVD REVIEW: Lucasfilm's "Strange Magic"

You would
think that an animated feature that sprang “from the mind of George Lucas”
would have been trumpeted more vigorously than Strange Magic was when it hit theaters. Instead, there was little
more than a kazoo toot when compared to the aggressive marketing of most
current theatrical releases. But it’s coming to DVD a week from today (Tuesday,
May 19), and while there’s also no big blast-o-rama surrounding the DVD release,
the accessibility of this odd feature might allow its potential fans to take a

The initial theatrical reviews were dour, but viewed on the home screen Strange Magic surprises – in a good way. The story works as a Dark Crystal-meets-Moulin Rouge-for kids, and the retro-pop score will have parents tapping their feet throughout the 99-minute running time. The film itself
is an ironic work (which likely explains the limited marketing). Lucas set out
to make a “Star Wars for girls”, a film that, in essence, what constitutes many
of today’s mainstream tentpole animated features.

Strange Magic
seems to have had been born of a solid recipe for
success—a romantic fairytale fantasy with contemporary attitude; a “book” musical
score in which well-loved soft-to-hard pop tunes (rather than traditional
Disney-style songs) are woven into the story; and a loose, a modernized twist
on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s
—but Lucas ultimately delivered a cult film, much as Jim Henson did
with Labryinth, which also blended a
rock edge with a storybook fantasy.

How could
the creator of Star Wars come forth
with such a thing? When you ponder it for a while, the original 1977 Star Wars was not a mainstream movie,
either. It was, at the time, a radical change from the garden-variety Hollywood
blockbuster and an “A” movie version of a largely unappreciated sci-fi “B”
movie genre, harkening back to the cliffhanger serials with updated production
values and a sassier slant. There was absolutely no indication that this film was
going to be the game changer and titanic franchise it became. Lucas was just
making the film he envisioned. The same is true with Strange Magic, even though the results differed at the box office.

The video transfer is rich, bringing out a wide color variance, as well as the superb art direction and animation. Visually, it’s reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful, colorful in spots but grounded in semi-natural tones. Some of the characters are over-designed and might look better in Blu-ray, but the DVD is fine overall. 

While Strange Magic may not be everyone’s cup
of tea, the DVD release’s minimal bonus features are a big letdown.
The fact that there is no audio commentary actually hurts the movie. Learning
more about the filmmakers’ intentions and actors’ insights would enhance and
reinforce the viewer’s overall enjoyment and appreciation. (Hopefully, if a
Blu-ray is planned, maybe a commentary will be included.)

One of the
two extras is a four-minute segment called “Creating the Magic”.
This is basically a promotional video with members of the creative team
speaking in sound bites—more akin to an interstitial piece to place between
cable shows than a genuine special feature. (Perhaps, with budgets getting
crunched, the only way to justify the expense of bonus features at all is to
produce reusable marketing materials.)

This is the
other bonus feature, called “Magical Mash-Up: Outtakes, Test and Melodies”. It offers
a quick overview of the look and sound of the film, as well as some
behind-the-scenes material. Here’s a brief 48 second excerpt: 

It is
unlikely that there will be a line of Strange
toys and a string of sequels, much less a theme park presence for
this film. Lucas was not going to hook tween girls with those “ewww, they’re so
old” pop songs, so he probably missed that specific target. It’s not
necessarily fair to call it a “girl’s movie” either. But if you approach it without
Star Wars or Frozen expectations, it could surprise you.

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