Box Office Democracy: “Strange Magic”
I spent all week trying to scheme for some angle to not have to see Mortdecai. Maybe this would be a good week to go see a couple Oscar contenders that we missed, maybe our readers would rather hear about The Boy Next Door and see if there’s any chance of a J. Lo comeback, anything to keep me from having to write about a movie that looked to be Johnny Depp doing his best to murder his career on the same hill Mike Meyers went to for The Love Guru. Finally, late on Friday, I came up with a counterpitch that stuck: I should go see Strange Magic because it’s a George Lucas film (or at least a George Lucas story credit) and ComicMix readers probably have a strong opinion one way or the other on the man who launched and arguably sank two of the biggest geek franchises of all time. I regret doing it; I regret succeeding because I can’t imagine Mortdecai being any worse than Strange Magic.
I don’t know what I thought I would get from George Lucas with an animated movie hyped as “a Star Wars for girls” but I certainly didn’t expect it to be a jukebox musical largely featuring music from the 1960s and 70s. I guess a good song is a good song but I can’t imagine anything on this soundtrack is going to get kids in to the theaters like a more modern soundtrack or a good original soundtrack would. Even if this is to entice more musically worldly parents the renditions of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “I Can’t Help Myself” are decidedly not as good coming from the vocal chords of actors as they were when sung by Elvis Presley or The Four Tops but the movie trots their own renditions out over and over again over the course of the movie until you wonder how many of those places were originally reserved for songs for which they couldn’t get the rights. There is one clever use of music in the whole film, when a marching army uses the chanting sections of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” as a march and one bit of cleverness can’t save the rest of the poor music choices.
The story in Strange Magic is an awkward blend of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Captain EO short movie that used to air at Disney parks. For the publicity tour they really played up the “inspired by Shakespeare” angle but honestly the only thing it borrows from The Bard is a set of love potion contrivances and, I suppose, the loose idea of fairies as a thing. The script owes far more to the EO short that lucas produced in the 80s. It has the same dark kingdom ruled by an evil monarch who needs only the power of love to bring him back around to the side of the angels. It may be unfair to fault someone from borrowing heavily from their own work, or to give Lucas credit for inventing that idea in the first place, but I suppose there’s only so much I can see people change the course of nation by singing at someone that I can see before the mind draws parallels.
This is a small incident but considering his history I don’t think Lucas can be given a pass anymore when his movies appear to be racist. Strange Magic concludes with a speech given by the Fairy King declaring that the lesson to be learned from these events is that people should not be judged by what they look like. Immediately after that speech the Fairy King sees his youngest daughter kissing the only black character in the movie. The Fairy King says “an elf?!” before collapsing but it’s impossible not to read the subtext here or, rather, it’s impossible given the history with Lucas and race. If this wasn’t the man who made Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom maybe we could talk about a pass. If this wasn’t the man who made Lando Calrissian the only black person in the original Star Wars trilogy and then filled the prequels with some absolutely vexing accent choices maybe we could talk about a pass. It felt gross to watch and had no place in a kids’ movie. It sent me out of a bad movie with an even worse taste in my mouth and I can’t believe that all the people at LucasFilm and Disney who must have had to watch this movie before release had no problem with it.