‘Strange Magic’: A strangely sexist animated musical

LucasFilm’s “Strange Magic” is a strangely sexist musical with the double standard wider than the Atlantic Ocean. This is beauties and the beasts in which the beasties don’t transform into handsome young princes.

Some of you might remember the 1975 soft rock classic “Strange Magic” by the Electric Light Orchestra which is where the movie gets its title. Yet this movie isn’t devoted to ELO or the 1970s. The movie mixes many different songs, changes a few lyrics and mixes musical eras: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (1961), “Three Little Birds” (1977), “Bad Romance” (2009) and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (1968).

This is both a jukebox musical and a “Glee” style song festival. Some of the music is tweaked or stylized to fit into the storyline.

The story places two lands next to each other. On one side is the Dark Forest. On the other side is the Fairy Kingdom.  At the border between the two lands, grows a special magical flower, the primrose which can be used by the Sugar Plum Fairy (making a special appearance from “The Nutcracker”) to make a love potion.

The bitter Bog King (voiced by Alan Cumming) has decreed that all the primrose petals should be destroyed to prevent the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) from bringing love to the Dark Forest because “love is dangerous.”

On the other side, the fairies are the aristocracy and the elves are the peasants. The king (Alfred Molina) has two daughters: the eldest Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull). Marianne is engaged to marry the blonde, green-eyed Roland (Sam Palladio doing a young Elvis imitation) who, as with the better animated feature “Frozen,” only interested in being king. Marianne is positively blissfully in love and can barely keep away from Roland, coyly avoiding the bad luck of him seeing her dress before the actual nuptials (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”). Just before the wedding Marianne spots Roland kissing another fairy and crushed  (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”) decides to go goth, but by only darkening her palate.

Marianne’s sister is a ditzy, cheerful blonde Dawn and is ready to fall in love (“Three Little Birds”) with anyone but the elf who adores her, Sunny (Elijah Kelley). Sunny has fallen into the friend zone and he is shorter, darker and stockier than any of the fairies who a light-skinned, slender and fly with butterfly wings.  The ambitious Roland hasn’t quite given up his bid for a kingdom and an army; he convinces Sunny that the solution to both their problems is a primrose petal and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The Sugar Plum Fairy has been imprisoned by the Bog King.  Sunny ventures into the Dark Forest, but the Bog King is notified by the mushroom gossip line. He’s unable to stop Sunny from getting the Sugar Plum Fairy from making the potion, but is able to re-capture her and then pursues Sunny. Sunny escapes and having been instructed that any one exposed to this potion will fall in love with the first moving thing it sees,  exposes Dawn to the pink potion. Before she can see him, Dawn is abducted by the goblins from the Dark Forest. For the return of Dawn, the fairies must give the Bog King the potion.

Sunny no longer has the potion because a opossum-like creature has stolen it and begun making love connections that were never meant to be. You can probably figure out where this plot line is going. There will be true love found for Marianne and the Bog King, Dawn and Sunny. We’ll learn why the Bog King has turned his back on love and how the Sugar Plum Fairy was involved.

The movie’s tagline is “Everyone deserves to be loved” but that really only applies to the male characters. The female characters we focus upon are stereotypically attractive in the PG animated way–lithe, regular and attractive facial features and good hair. The modern touch is the hair for both fairy princesses is short and one, the brunette, of course, goes goth. I’m not sure how the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker is imagined as a bodhisattva and why she is the only fairy that has an East Asian look when the other fairies are Art Deco American/Northern European in appearance. One suspects that Disney’s “Fantasia” was the inspiration for the mushroom sentinels and almost expects they will begin dancing. Yet the East Asian theme isn’t carried over to the fungus at all.

What is delightful is hearing the beautiful voices doing covers of old and new pop and rock songs. Cumming and Chenoweth are both Broadway actors and their vocals are always a delight to hear. Where else would Cumming get to be a hero other than an animated feature.

“Strange Magic” is an animated tale that might give hope to the tall and gawky or the short and dumpy boys. If there’s a moral, then it’s that attractive girls and women shouldn’t overlook unattractive boys and men because good character counts. Take that you handsome golden-haired boys that all geeks making this movie envied during high school.

My advice is buy the soundtrack and wait for the movie to come out VoD.

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2 comments

  1. One issue with this response. What makes a woman unattractive? I get that they made the male characters contrast in such a way that it was obvious what the movie creators were getting across. (Unattractive men deserve love) But what defines women as “unattractive”? If the movie had featured this woman, there would be a massive outcry on beauty standards. (Assuming, but the same scenario in movies has happened before.) I’m an outright male feminist, and proud to admit it and I’m trying to help make a better point here. The issue I have is that ugliness should not be a physical thing in our society(including entertainment). Male and female. It’s shitty to be called ugly no matter what sex you are. This article goes on to insult many men in that way, which we shouldn’t do. Nor should we apply it to women.

    It’s okay to have preferences as a lot of it has to do with the whole psychological effect in nature and nurture. However, simply blaming someone for their appearance and calling them “ugly” is extremely unfair for both sexes.

    If anything, the only character that was truly ugly was Roland because of his character.

    Overall though, I agreed with the assessment on the movie being pretty sexist, but mainly due to the constant need to enforce an idea of gender roles.

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    • Please note that I did not use the word ugly in my description of the male characters.

      The original concept for this animated feature from the director is actually “Beauty and the Beast” “where the beast doesn’t change.”

      Further, George Lucas stated that he wanted to make a movie for his three daughters. In the article Lucas is quoted as saying, “‘Star Wars’ was for 12-year-old boys; I figured I’d make one for 12-year-old girls.”

      The discussion in my review is not what I think makes a woman attractive. As I state, this movie goes for a stereotype for a certain type of movie rating.

      The discussion in my review is also not about what I think makes a man unattractive.

      I discuss physical features that the animators consider attractive or unattractive. It is the animators and not myself who has defined certain physical characteristics as attractive. For this reason, to say that “This article goes on to insult many men in that way, which we shouldn’t do. Nor should we apply it to women,” seems misguided at best.

      I’m not sure where you find the “blame.”

      Moreover, there has been a movie about an unattractive princess who found love and was loved for her true self: the 2001 “Shrek.” This was surely one of the best twists on Beauty and the Beast.

      More recently “Boxtrolls” featured a no-nonsense lass (Winnie) who was sturdy and much stockier than the male character (Eggs).

      In addition, the classic “Jane Eyre” is about an unattractive woman, a plain Jane, who found love. Jane Eyre describes herself as “poor, obscure, plain and little.” According to Merriam Webster, plain in this case means “lacking beauty or ugliness.”

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