‘Strange Magic’ Review: George Lucas’ Off-Key Kiddie Dud Will Make You Miss Jar Jar Binks (Video)

Rubber-faced characters and a seemingly ceaseless parade of repurposed pop ditties combine to make what might be the worst animated feature Disney has ever released

Well, now we know what a Las Vegas show designed for eight-year-olds would look like.

The advance marketing on producer George Lucas’ “Strange Magic” suggested a retread of the not-all-that-memorable 2013 cartoon “Epic.” And yes, this fairies-versus-bugs story does recall that earlier film, but “Magic” also ladles in unwieldy dollops of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Moulin Rouge!” and a particularly long and excruciating episode of “American Idol.”

The script — by David Berenbaum, Irene Mecchi and director Gary Rydstrom, from a story by Lucas — gives us two neighboring lands: the Fairy Kingdom and the Dark Forest. In the former, princess Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is all atwitter about her impending marriage to the vain Roland (Sam Palladio), until she catches him cheating, which turns her into a sword-wielding fury. The Dark Forest, meanwhile, is ruled over by the grumpy Bog King (Alan Cumming), who orders his goblins to cut down the primroses lest his prisoner, the Sugarplum Fairy (Kristen Chenoweth), make love potions out of them.

Roland, wanting to win back Marianne so that he can eventually become king, convinces elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley, “Hairspray”) to go into the forest and get some of that potion, taking advantage of the fact that Sunny is smitten with Marianne’s sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull). Nothing goes quite as planned, especially when it turns out the perfect match for Marianne might be the Bog King — because hey, it’s not like we’ve ever seen a kids’ movie where the handsome guy is a jerk and the monstrous loner turns out to be sweet and sensitive.

StrangeMagic546f78d7e0726It takes what feels like a lifetime for “Strange Magic” to get all this plot going because the characters insist on grinding the movie to a halt every few minutes to belt out another uninspired version of a pop song, whether it’s a smitten Dawn crooning “Can’t Help Myself” or the Sugarplum Fairy belting out “Love is Strange.” It’s not that these folks can’t sing — Cumming and Chenoweth are deservedly acclaimed for their Broadway pipes — but these songs are so blandly orchestrated (and so very on-the-nose plot-wise, at a “Rock of Ages” level) that it’s hard not to grit your teeth when you realize yet another Top 40 fave is about to be ground into Radio Disney mulch.

The actors seem to have been directed to go as big as possible in their performances, leading to some disappointments (Chenoweth isn’t nearly as fun here as she was in last year’s otherwise-forgettable “Rio 2”) as well as some flat-out embarrassments (Maya Rudolph’s turn as the Bog King’s kvetchy mother would have been considered too broad for a vaudeville stage).

As for the animation itself, the backgrounds are stunning, with every spider web, clump of moss and falling leaf giving a sense of lush, natural vitality. The characters don’t fare as well — the humanoid fairies and elves all have that creepy rubber-face that sank motion-capture movies like “Mars Needs Moms.” The lizards and goblins, to say nothing of the supposedly fearsome Bog King, actually come off cuter and less disturbing than their counterparts who are stuck in the wrong neighborhood of the Uncanny Valley.

That terrible character design, combined with a painful lack of laughs and a crushing plethora of ghastly songs, makes “Strange Magic” perhaps the worst animated feature ever to come out of Disney (which might explain why the studio is releasing the film under its now-rarely-used Touchstone label). Compared to other Lucas missteps of recent years, it’ll make you nostalgic for Jar Jar Binks.