George Lucas hopes ‘Strange Magic’ will appeal to all ages

Published 11:17 am Friday, January 23, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) — George Lucas has been toying around with “Strange Magic” for almost 15 years.

The animated musical fantasy about a fairy kingdom and true love, in theaters Friday, began as a pet project while he was working on the “Star Wars” prequels.

Lucas started thinking about audiences and figured that if he’d created “Star Wars” as a “mythological adventure for 12-year-old boys,” maybe he could do one for 12-year-old girls.

Before female fans of “Star Wars” take up arms, though, Lucas knows “Star Wars” isn’t exclusively for boys, or even just kids. He hopes “Strange Magic” will appeal to all ages and genders.

The story’s heroine, Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood), is a feisty warrior princess who is not dissimilar to Leia.

“The problem is the mind of George Lucas is not that big,” said Lucas. “I have a tendency to write the same characters over and over again.”

To tell the story, Lucas envisioned a whimsical, animated jukebox confection where pop lyrics would be the driving narrative force. Just like in his retro love letter of a film “American Graffiti,” he would use preexisting songs.

But the fun, breezy concept turned into a decade-long headache. Music rights costs aside (Lucas realized that he would not be able to afford to populate an entire movie with Beatles songs), telling a coherent story through a complex mixtape spanning decades and genres proved to be an incredible challenge.

“Every song was a scene on the storyboard. If you take out one song then you probably have to take out two or three scenes because that story might not track anymore. It’s a really complex Rubik’s Cube,” Lucas said.

Then he realized that his first cut was three hours.

“I knew I overdid it,” he laughed.

He brought on Marius de Vries, the music director on “Moulin Rouge,” to help assemble the complex tapestry of song and story, as well as director Gary Rydstrom, who wrote the screenplay with David Berenbaum and Irene Mecchi.

The final product includes anthems as diverse as “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” “Wild Thing” and, of course, “Strange Magic,” all of which are sung by the film’s actors, including Kristin Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph, Alan Cumming and Sam Palladio.

The songs weren’t the only issue, though. His story, partly inspired by William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” seemed like a bad idea to some, too, he said.

It’s essentially a “Beauty and the Beast” story where the beast doesn’t turn into a handsome prince in the end. That meant making the bad guy ugly, “but not so ugly that he couldn’t change into something loveable,” said Lucas.

For Lucas, the message is about finding love in unexpected places.

Beyond “Strange Magic,” Lucas insists that he doesn’t have any other 15-year passion projects sitting on his desk at the moment, but he is going back to his experimental roots, playing around with techniques to see if he can tell stories in a different way.

Looming large, though, is the seventh iteration of “Star Wars,” which hits theaters Dec. 18.

Lucas isn’t involved in the production of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” He ceded those rights when he sold Lucasfilm Ltd. to The Walt Disney Co. for $4 billion in 2012.

But the culture of feverish anticipation surrounding the giant franchise is hard to avoid, especially for the man who started it all.

“I saw the trailer and it looks interesting,” said Lucas of director J.J. Abrams’ 88-second teaser that debuted in late November.

“The one thing I regret with ‘Star Wars’ is that I never got to see it. I never got to see that big ship come over and go ‘oooh aahh.’ And how kids would hear about it and say, ‘Oh, that’s going to be great,’ now I get to do that. I get to see it and be surprised,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it.”


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