STRANGE MAGIC Singapore Press Conference

George Lucas wanted to make a fairy tale for adolescent girls. That was how the latest animation from his Lucasfilm Animation began.

“Star Wars was a mythological adventure for 12-year-old boys and I wanted it to appeal to everyone from 8 months to 80,” he said at a press conference in Lucasfilm Animation Singapore’s Sandcrawler building. “But I thought well maybe I’ll make a fairy tale adventure for adolescent 12-year-old girls and hope that all the boys will see it – because there is a lot of adventure, sword fighting and monsters.” 

A father of three daughters, two in their twenties from his first marriage and another 18-month-old from his current marriage, George counts his daughters as the reason that he wanted to make ‘Strange Magic’ some fifteen years ago. “I wanted to tell a story about the difference between infatuation and true love, Infatuation is like love dust; it’s like a disease – you get it, you go crazy, and when you wake up, you go ‘Who’s this? Why am I with this person?’ or they leave you or any heartache that comes out of it.”

“You should focus on what’s behind that, the book and not the cover,” said George. “It’s an old story told over and over again, but my feeling is that you can never tell these stories too often, because each generation needs to have it told in their own language.” He describes ‘Strange Magic’ as ‘this story told for that generation’, likening it again to ‘Star Wars’ in that it is nothing new but just done in a different (and more appealing) way.

Described as a rom-com musical, ‘Strange Magic’ unfolds in two magical kingdoms – the Fairy Kingdom where Marianne, heir to its throne, lives as a headstrong warrior hardened by her fiancee’s unfaithfulness, and the Dark Forest, where its Bog King despises the adjacent Fairy Kingdom for its embrace of love and every other magic associated with it.  

“When I started fifteen years ago, I had this little group of people who designed characters and environments and another group that started working on technology. We were working with Industrial Light and Magic at that time to be able to create the movie that I wanted to make and within financial reason,” said George. “That took a long time, and about ten years was spent doing that. In the last five years, we were able to take advantage of all that and we tested it on The Clone Wars which we did here in Singapore. That was the Indiana Jones chronicles so we could go to the next level.”

He has nothing but praise for the team at Lucasfilm Animation Singapore who worked on the film. “This movie marks the culmination of our goal here in Singapore to make a feature film, and I’m proud to say that the film is better than what I expected it to be,” said George, adding that it is a rare compliment which he could only say likewise for ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Calling the film “brilliant”, he even went as far as to hint that it is better than anything that two other animation studios under the same Disney parent - Pixar and Disney Animation Studios – have done.

In addition to the story and the technology, one crucial distinguishing factor for the movie was its choice of music. “What I did was I just went into my music archives [which were the same archives I went into for ‘American Graffiti] and started finding music that I liked. Part of the development process was listening to the music, and trying to design a story where you could fit songs into it,” said George. “This went on forever, because we were constantly changing stories, or taking music out that was too expensive, or shortening the film and finding new music to cover the glitch when we jumped from A to C instead of to B.”

Indeed, the music that made it into the movie was George’s “top 25” favourites. The first song that he picked was the opening song ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, which summed up the whole movie for George and was also his inspiration for the story. “It is fun to be able to do this when you have songs that say what you are trying to say, and that was the original idea,” said George.

“Popular music, especially the kind about love, goes into the category of disappointment, sorrow, and heartbreak. That’s two-thirds of it,” he added. “The other one-third is about the happiness of falling in love. There’s obviously a lot more spent on the tragic side of love than on the happy side of love, so the movie kind of reflects that.”

Because the music was such a key part of the movie, George said that it was important for the voice actors to also be good singers. “I was looking for a good singer, I was looking for a good actor, and I was looking for people who could be and sound like the characters,” said George.

“Alan Cumming [who voices the Bog King] was George’s pick, and he had to go from scary bad guy to somebody that you want to see fall in love and actually stand being kissed!” said seven-time Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who makes his directorial debut on this movie. “Casting is a key element to any animated film, and it is more important that they create a character that you remember and less that they are famous names; it’s more important that they bring something to the character and create a character that you remember.”

Asked why he did not cast big-name actors in the roles, George said that he does not believe in movie stars – except for Sean Connery in ‘Last Crusade’. “If they become a movie star in a movie, then they do, but I have never hired a movie star to promote a movie,” said George. “I have never understood why you need a movie star in an animated film.” It was also due to the reasonably low-budget nature of the film, which he said guided a lot of the creative choices that the team took.

George isn’t shy to admit that the movie is “slightly experimental”. “The first thing everybody said when they saw the designs was ‘Oh, she’s not actually going to kiss him, is she?’ and I said ‘Yeah, they fall in love, they get married and they have kids’!” said George. “The other challenge was how we were treading a delicate line between photoreal and animation – basically we had a photoreal background but we had some animated characters in front of it. I didn’t want it to look like ‘Final Fantasy’; they are animated characters but they live in a real world, and not have that be jarring.”

And yet that seems to be the attitude of George’s films especially in recent years. “I’m not looking to make a hit movie. I’m just doing something that I want to do for my own reasons, and some of them are hits, some people like them, some aren’t,” said George with unusual candour. “The real thing for me is doing it. That’s where I am going into now – I’m just going into experimental films, and they may not even be released. I don’t really care – I just want to do things for myself and find out if it really works.”

At least for ‘Strange Magic’, George said that he loves it, and is absolutely happy with it.

Text by Gabriel Chong | Photos by Linus Tee and Walt Disney Studios Singapore

Our review of STRANGE MAGIC right here.