Strange Magic is strange, all right, and the first hour or so is awful in the usual CGI manner. There's a thick crust of elaborated surfaces, way too much smarty-pants dialogue, a frantically restless camera, rapid cutting that repeatedly tests the weary eyeball's ability to keep up, and, especially, characters—elves and fairies and such—who, when they're not the usual plasticine dolls, resemble all too closely, but not really closely enough, their predecessors in roughly comparable films like Pixar's A Bug's Life, whose grasshopper villain anticipates the Bog King in the new film. (You can dismiss any thoughts of A Midsummer Night's Dream, supposedly the basis for the story, which is credited, if that's the word, to Lucas). What makes Strange Magic really strange is that it's a jukebox musical, with a soundtrack assembled from pop songs spanning several decades. Most of the music undermines any charm to be found in the fairy-tale visuals, and there's not enough wit evident in the choice of the songs, which conceivably could have been used to create a sort of alternative atmosphere: fey but with tongue in cheek.
To my surprise, though, I left the theater feeling quite cheerful, and with warm feelings for Strange Magic and its makers. Like the other people working on CGI features, they were imprisoned in a creative straitjacket, condemned to make a cartoon of the sort the market supposedly requires, but they found an escape route in the conflict between the two principal characters, the Bog King and the fairy princess Marianne. Even though they're antagonists at first, the Bog King is never presented as a coal-black villain, and so there's an opening first for comedy, and then, eventually, for a full-blown romance. There is, remarkably, nothing arbitrary or abrupt about how the relationship evolves. There is instead a gradual change in their feelings for each other—not a steady progression, but the sort of back and forth that occurs as two people come to care for each other even when they have no reason to expect such an outcome. In other words, Strange Magic felt to me surprisngly real at its core.
In Defense of Lucasfilm's Strange Magic
Animation scholar (and notorious CGI curmedgeon) Michael Barrier comes to the defense of the much-maligned Lucasfilm-producted animated feature, Strange Magic: