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    Love conquers all in Strange Magic

    The totally zany and super spectacular animated musical Strange Magic is an enchanting creation from George Lucas and Lucasfilm, featuring a princess who has sworn off love, a vulnerable villain, a slightly nutty Sugar Plum Fairy, a tenacious and big-hearted elf, a mischievous imp, and a knight who is no Prince Charming.

    "I wanted to do something fun and happy yet unexpected," says executive producer George Lucas, whose story was adapted by screenwriters David Berenbaum (Elf), Irene Mecchi (The Lion King, Brave) and director Gary Rydstrom.

    You have never experienced a fairy tale like this, with fairies turning into heavy rockers and singing their hearts out. Producer Mark S Miller says the story is inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream. "It's a farcical fairy tale with characters and creatures of all shapes and sizes falling in love with the most unlikely candidates."

    Love conquers all in Strange Magic

    Battle over a powerful potion

    The tale of misadventure is sparked by the battle over a powerful potion created from a unique flower. "Primroses grow where shadow meets light," says director Gary Rydstrom. "In the film, these flowers border the Dark Forest and the Fairy Kingdom-two worlds that are at odds. So primrose petals are the perfect ingredients for a love potion. "George wanted to tell a love story where you saw beauty in something you didn't expect-it may look ugly on the outside, but there is beauty underneath."

    But Bog King, the leader of the Dark Forest, is not a fan of love and has been destroying the flowers to ensure that no love enters his kingdom-or any kingdom for that matter. His position is tested when Marianne, a tough fairy princess who's also sworn off love, inadvertently challenges everything he believes.

    "The point of the film is that everyone deserves to be loved," says Lucas. "And true love goes much deeper than infatuation or looks. Love happens in the most unlikely places with the most unlikely people. "It's a story about love and how the most unlikely people fall in love. It's about finding true beauty in someone's soul regardless of how they look."

    A tough-and-feisty fairy

    Evan Rachel Wood, who was sensational in Across The Universe, is sensational voicing Marianne, who was once madly in love with philandering fairy Roland, and transforms from a giggling, open-hearted free spirit to a tough-and-feisty fairy who doesn't always see eye to eye with her father, the Fairy King. Wood fiercely tackles a range of songs, from Dionne Warwick's I'll Never Fall in Love Again to Heart's Straight On.

    An absolute highlight is her Wild Thing duet with Alan Cumming, who voices the Bog King who rules the Dark Forest. Imposing and intimidating, Bog is feared by all who serve him-and that's exactly the way he likes it. "He's a sad, angry thing and he's pulled back from the world," says Alan Cumming. "He's spooky, but there's a certain handsome, dashing quality to him."

    Cumming, a Broadway veteran performs a host of songs for the film, including two songs originally performed by Elvis Presley: Trouble and Can't Help Falling in Love.

    "I loved singing Mistreated and the big rock numbers," adds Cumming. "They're so much fun to do, but really hard on your throat. I really love Strange Magic-to a point where I obsessively sing it all the time."

    Love conquers all in Strange Magic

    The anti-Prince Charming

    Equally brilliant is Sam Palladio as the egotistical Prince Charming, who dreams of being king and leading his very own army, but his wandering eye-and lips-puts an end to his engagement to fairy princess Marianne. Handsome and confident atop his loyal squirrel steed Chipper, Roland is sure he can charm Marianne back into his arms where she belongs-and make his way to the throne in the process.

    Says Palladio. "He's the anti-Prince Charming. He presents himself as this southern gentleman with class and sophistication, using lovely, long words that make him sound intelligent, but his desire to rule and to have a beautiful woman on his arm lead to some poor choices.

    "Roland thinks the world of himself," continues Palladio. "He spends far too much time looking in the mirror. I suppose he's the bad guy of the group, but he'd think he's just misunderstood-he just wants what he wants. Roland loves showing off. He loves being the centre of attention. He's all face and no heart, but he looks damn cool doing it."

    A little more Salvador Dalí

    Lucas wanted the Sugar Plum Fairy to be different from the other fairies. "She's a bit more magical, surreal-a little more Salvador Dalí." Kristin Chenoweth lends her voice to the Sugar Plum Fairy and delivers a memorable moment singing Love Is Strange, a big showpiece.

    Lucas' devotion to timeless storytelling and cutting-edge innovation has resulted in some of the most successful and beloved films of all time. It was his third film, 1977's Star Wars, which changed everything, breaking all box office records and setting new standards for sophistication in film visuals and sound. The film garnered eight Academy Awards and inspired a generation of young people to follow their imagination and dreams. He then transformed Lucasfilm into one of the world's leading entertainment companies, including Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, as well as LucasArts, Lucas Licensing, Lucas Online and Lucasfilm Animation.

    Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic bring to life the fanciful forest turned upside-down with world-class animation and visual effects. "It was important to the filmmakers that the fairy world be detailed and rich, but visually relatable. They tasked the artists to come up with a fresh, unique vision for their world of fairies, goblins, imps and elves. "We wanted the film to be very realistic looking-like it was actually photographed in somebody's backyard," says Lucas. "At the same time, we wanted to find that very delicate balance between realism and stylised animation."

    According to Rydstrom, the film's look was designed around the theme that things aren't necessarily as they appear. "What seems scary at first glance might not be so scary after all," says Rydstrom. "We have a happy bright world and then a dark scary world-and they're both beautiful."

    Love conquers all in Strange Magic

    Light and dark

    "You want to go to these places," adds producer Mark S Miller. "The light side of the forest is beautiful in a classic fairyland way, and it's juxtaposed with the dark side, which is equally-if surprisingly-lovely in its own way. Marianne's journey is all about being scared of the Dark Forest, but ultimately appreciating its strange beauty. The look of the environments-from the concepts to the lighting-is truly exceptional."

    It's not your average fairy tale, weaving together new versions of favourite songs from the last six decades-including songs made famous by artists ranging from Mickey & Sylvia and Elvis Presley to Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

    Lucas is a long-time fan of Baz Luhrmann's 2001 film Moulin Rouge and its mix of popular music within its score.

    "I chose Marius de Vries as the musical director because I loved what he did with Moulin Rouge," Lucas continues. "And I've turned to Gary Rydstrom for many years for his talent in sound design. I've always thought that sound and music were just as important as the visuals in a film. It was an extraordinary experience to work with such a dynamic duo on such an intricate collection of songs and the complementary score."

    A specific genre of pop music

    De Vries took Lucas' lead when it came to the stylistic anchors of the film's music. "Each of the kingdoms' tribes is coloured by a specific genre of pop music drawn from a very eclectic and diverse range of periods and styles, and woven into a narrative tapestry that still manages to feel coherent and emotionally logical."

    According to De Vries, criteria for song selections included-first and foremost-storytelling needs, as well as emotional resonance and-at times, comedic potential. He adds: "Each song needed to feel true to the character singing it."

    Director Gary Rydstrom adds Rydstrom says: "American Graffiti was one of the inspirations for the movie, but for Strange Magic, we took the idea a step further. Every song helped tell the story, but because the songs come with such history, they evoke emotional tugs on your heart strings. The whole movie is about seeing something in a new way-looking past the obvious."

    Adds Lucas: "I love telling stories with music. Strange Magic may take a different approach than we did with American Graffiti, but I had just as much fun. I love all kinds of music from classical to ethnic to contemporary. Since childhood, music has been an important part of my life.

    "For example," adds Rydstrom, "Marianne is furious with Roland and we needed to give her the right song to vent her feelings. Stronger is a great song. Emotionally, it's just a kick-ass song that can be rocked out while slamming the door on Roland in a really fun way. The theme and lyrics are perfect."

    According to Miller, "The film's title song, Strange Magic, took on its significance as the scene unfolded for filmmakers. "I knew the song from the '70s and it's a great song," he says. "But it didn't affect me like it does till our scene came together. The arrangement by Marius de Vries, the performances by Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming and the characters coming together so eloquently really drove home that this is our movie. It became clear that this should be the title of our movie."

    Four additional songs

    De Vries identifies four additional songs that he feels form the core of the film. Strange Magic is the heart of the movie, while I Can't Help Falling in Love is the spine. Love Is Strange showcases the underlying pretext of the story. And, he includes Mistreated in his key four "because we are in danger of forgetting Deep Purple", he jokes.

    The score, says De Vries, helps tie the songs together. "We just tried to stay out of the way a little bit thematically-the film is already so rich with great songs. At just over half way through the film, the score does a bit more heavy lifting, but even then we tried to be informed by the song structure that holds the movie together."

    The score features unbelievable sitar performances by Anoushka Shankar, as well as Oren Marshall's tuba 'heroics', according to de Vries, and Chris Storr's inimitable trumpet style.

    Strange Magic was designed as if it might take place in the backyard and will truly blow your mind with its magic.

    Says director Gary Rydstrom: "We figured that these fairies actually live in our world, they might appear to be regular butterflies or bugs because most of us wouldn't look closely enough."

    "From the very beginning, George wanted the film to look amazing-with goblins and fairies like you've never quite seen," says producer Mark S Miller. "The whole look is detailed and rich-from the look of the woods to the characters and how they move." To get the elves and fairies to feel real wasn't easy, demanding a stretching of available technology. With its roster of colourful characters and two distinct worlds, Strange Magic summoned the imaginations of a host of artists in both Singapore and San Francisco to achieve the perfect look.

    If you want to take a trip into the light fantastic, make sure to venture into the world of Strange Magic, an animated film you will never forget.

    For once, we can all believe in magic.

    For more on Strange Magic and other films opening this week, go to www.writingstudio.co.za

    About Daniel Dercksen

    Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za
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