This week sees the release of a new animated movie titled Strange Magic. The film is the latest animated effort from LucasFilm, and while the animated creatures might remind some people of the classics from Jim Henson, the trailers show that this movie might fall way short of the animated magic movies that came before.
With the idea of magic in the air, the staff of Renegade Cinema set out to figure out our favorite movies based in the world of magic, from kid’s flicks to animated features to dark fantasies, here is a look at the magic movies we found to be bewitching.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Derek Johns: Harry Potter is arguably the.greatest magic movies series of all time so it’s seems only fair that I pick the film that started it all. It’s easy to forget that before the series became grim and serious it had a much more whimsical beginning. As a kid that had just read the books for the first (though certainly not the last) time, I spent the better part of a year and a half anticipating it’s release and when the big day finally came it did not disappoint. To this day, seeing it in theaters remains one of the favorite movie theater experiences of my youth.
Patricia Márquez: How can you not love Christopher Nolan’s best movie? Yeah that’s right, I said it: it’s his best movie. His odd, delirious pacing and music score works best in this movie’s shifting perspective of “dual” career magicians: Hugh Jackman’s character and Christian Bale’s. Nolan does a great job using locale, as I will never forget the eerie, vast scenes of the Rockies. He clearly uses turn-of-the-century magic as an allegory for filmmaking, which is chill. And the final twist, for me at least, came completely out of nowhere. And the second twist, which is revealed in the final shot of the movie, straight up gave me chills. I love this movie. Oh, and David Bowie has a cameo as Nikola Tesla! And there’s a cat in it. And Scarlett Johansson. Ok, I’m done.
Mike Luxemburg: Yeah, I mean it’s gotta be The Prestige. It’s one of, if not the only, movies that takes the sleight of hand from the stage to the screen. The illusions are happening right in front of you, but you never know. Going back through is like watching an expert magician’s tricks over and over looking for the tells. Movies that draw me back in OVER and OVER and always show something new are hard to find, but The Prestige certainly qualifies.
The Dark Crystal
Ruby Le Rouge: I didn’t think The Prestige was all that astounding. This is a hard choice though, I love movies with magical elements. I think I’ll go with Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. When I saw it as a kidling it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen, and started my love for art, props, stop motion, and cinema in general. It’s still stunning, and the Skesis are still as creepy as an adult as they were as a child. The scene where they draw the essence just as heart wrenching, and the story just as engaging. Everything Jim Henson made was pure magic, but this movie was the most intricate and beautiful in every aspect.
Caleb Masters: There’s not a lot about The Prestige I can say that already hasn’t been said so I’ll go with my alternate.
Pans Labyrinth is a darker take on the whimsey of magic, but I think it leaves us as the audience with a very clear message; Do not trust things we don’t understand. The magic of Del Toro’s grim style fairytale is very much in the vein of Pandora’s Box. After Ophelia wonder’s into the forbidden maze in the beginning of the movie, everything in her home goes straight to hell(arguably in a literal sense).
This is the crown jewel in Del Toro’s rather varied catalogue and like the Prestige, it demands repeat viewings thanks to its ambiguous ending and keen attention to detail.
Shawn S. Lealos: I have to go with Caleb here. When looking at the brilliant film career of Guillermo Del Toro, there is nothing better than his Spanish-language films. Pan’s Labyrinth is not only his best movie, but is arguably the best fantasy fairy tale film ever made. The entire film is brilliantly set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, making the horrors in real life striking when compared to the fantasy world that Opehlia wanders into. Set up a night to watch this back-to-back with The Devil’s Backbone and you will see why Del Toro is the greatest visionary filmmaker working today.
The Court Jester
Bethany Lewis: The Court Jester (1955) starring Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone, a musical medieval farce about a jester who infiltrates the royal court to dethrone the false king. While the movie itself isn’t about magic, there is a witch character who enchants (or really hypnotizes) the jester, giving him expert fencing skills that come and go with a snap of the fingers. This is the set up for the most spectacular sequence of the film, in which the unskilled Danny Kaye faces off against expert fencer Basil Rathbone. Legend has it that it was Rathbone’s fencing expertise alone that kept the enthusiastic Kaye from skewering him while filming the scene. This scene alone makes the movie worth the watch and is an excellent chance to see not only Rathbone’s beautiful fencing, but also a rare glimpse of his expert comedic acting. Otherwise, the movie is goofy as hell and balances precariously on a foundation of excellent comedy gags.
Tamica Phipps: I’m a fan of most movies dealing with magic so it’s hard to pick. The child in me loved Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Witches. The adult in me..still loves those. I also thought Now You See Me was pretty good.
Sandi Davis: The movie where magic took my breath away is 1985’s “Legend.”
Starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry in a love triangle that, depending on how Princess Lily chooses, will either darken the world forever or keep magic in a beautifully, spell drenched planet. Her choices are Jack, played by a baby Tom Cruise or the beautifully scary Darkness which has Tim Curry under all that makeup. The evil Darkness must marry Princess Lilia and kill the last ridiculously beautiful Unicorn to get his evil way. Jack must save Lily and the Unicorn from the big scary lair of Darkness for his world to continue with Lily in it. The cinematography is heart-stoppingly lush and lovely.
Now I’ve written about it, I’m grabbing my princess crown and watching it again. Oh yes, for best viewing pleasure, get the version with music by Tangerine Dream. It makes this movie almost perfect. Harry Potter, eat your heart out.
Sebastian Howard: Most magic movies suck, its pretty much a fact. All the Harry Potter movies are completely terrible and JK Rowling is the anti-Christ. Fuck, I don’t even think I would hate magic movies as much if it wasn’t for her, and the people who tried getting success by ripping her off. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was one of the funnier movies I’ve ever seen, but its mostly for unintentional reasons, and Nicholas Cage’s character is so weird in that movie….
So the first thing I thought of since I hate most live action magic movies, was to go to Disney, were just about every movie involves magic. However, I think there’s a difference between a magic movie, and a movie involving magic for a small part. Cinderlla isn’t really a magic movie, because the magic is only involved for about twenty-thirty minutes. Snow White isn’t really a magic movie either since it mostly involves Snow White hanging out with a bunch of dorky Dwarfs. So the two most obvious choices that come to mind for me are Sleeping Beauty, and Aladdin…. and maybe Beauty and the Beast. Sleeping Beauty doesn’t hold up that well though, and I haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast in forever, so Aladdin it is.
Now, let’s start off with the negatives. This movie has the very cliche, Disney/Fairy Tale theme going on in it. Aladdin is poor, but falls in love with the Princess Jasmine, and she falls in love with him too. However, Aladdin wants to become a Prince, and be wealthy so he can be upper class enough to be with Jasmine… however Jasmine likes him for the content of his character, and not his position in society. Also, she wants to escape her mundane, preppy girl life for something more exciting, while Aladdin wants to stop having to steal bread to live day by day. This movie cliche’ is a bit obnoxious… while still being touching. It is somewhat realistic that Aladdin would be image conscious, especially considering the time period he’s living in. But the theme becomes so obvious that you just want to shout at the screen, “QUIT BEING A BITCH ALADDIN, SHE LOVES YOU ANYWAY!!!” And I don’t think this would be a problem if it hadn’t been done before and after this movie multiple times (Cinderella and Shrek are two that come to mind).
However, this doesn’t really take away from the movie even if the solution is a bit obvious, and even a bit formula, because you get so invested in the characters that the movie never borders on being tedious. Aladdin is such a genuinely good guy, and even though they try to cover it up with cute singing and running sequences, he is stuck in a very, very bad situation. He literally is stealing bread to live day by day… and even then he usually gives it to some hungry kid just to be a good guy. Jasmine’s problems…. namely being bored and almost, kind of forced into marriage seem very trivial compared to Aladdin’s.
Enough about the relationship between them though, let’s talk about the two people who steal the whole F’n show. Jafar, and Robin Fucking Williams. Jafar is such a great villain, who can switch between truly evil, and deeply hilarious (which wouldn’t have worked without the talking parrot, which was a great addition). Jafar is also deeply intelligent, and one of my personal favorite villains in any Disney movie. Jafar is not fucking around in this movie, halfway in he gets a couple of his henchmen to literally drown Aladdin. And when he becomes an evil Genie, everything looks completely fucked.
Robin Williams as the good Genie though, is a bit of brilliance. When I heard that Williams died, it didn’t have that much of an impact on me. I mean I loved him on Good Will Hunting, and Insomnia, but besides that, there wasn’t too much I remembered him from. And then I rewatched this movie, and holy fuck is he on. The voice acting he does in this movie is so enthusiastic, and you can tell Williams was not half assing this. He switches moods perfectly, and since he’s usually so damn happy throughout the whole movie, its a big downer when he starts getting depressed near the end. He does it so well, that it highlights the mood and looks even better in contrast to the high comedy he was doing when he was with Aladdin. I also like that the Genie himself becomes more than a humorous plot advancement. This Genie is a bit of screwball, and likes to joke around but he also cares about Aladdin, which is highlighted by him giving him advice on Jasmine, and using one wish on Aladdin to save him from drowning even though Aladdin couldn’t… and didn’t actually ask for the wish. He’s also legitimately pissed off when Aladdin changes his mind on giving Genie his freedom, and is super depressed when Jafar steals him. This version of the Genie… could never be trapped in the lamp for long. He’s far too human for someone not to give him his freedom.
So yeah, this is definitely my favorite magic movie, and one of my favorite Disney movies ever. Everything’s so well done without ever becoming overbearing (except for maybe a bit of OD on Williams here and there) and is formula, without being tedious. Perfect movie on all counts…. and oh yeah, the sequel Return of Jafar is pretty great too.