Disney, Lucasfilm announce ‘Strange Magic,’ an animated musical from ‘Star Wars 7’ sound mixer

A year after the industry-rattling announcement that Walt Disney Pictures had acquired LucasFilm and planned on moving forward with hew “Star Wars” movies, there were vague reports that George Lucas and prequel trilogy sound mixer Gary Rydstrom were collaborating on an untitled animated film. Further digging revealed that the project may have been in the works since 2010. Without Disney or LucasFilm confirmations, the project was filed under rumors and left alone. Now, the joint companies have unearthed the long-gestating project on their own. “Strange Magic” will suddenly arrive in January 2015.

In an official press release, Disney describes the feature cartoon as “a madcap fairy tale musical” inspired by William Shakespeare”s “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Pop songs plucked from “the last six decades” will tell the tale of “a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion.” Which doo-wop hits do you most associate with Oberon?

Lucas conceived the story for “Strange Magic,” which he handed off to David Berenbaum (“Elf”), Irene Mecchi (“Brave,” “The Lion King”) and Rydstrom. The film marks the feature debut for Rydstrom, who jumps from shorts (“Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation,” “Lifted”), and English dub directing on Studio Ghibli films like “The Wind Rises” and “The Secret World of Arrietty” (his logged hours with Pixar should calm skeptics). “Strange Magic” marks Industrial Light & Magic”s first animated film after its 2011 Oscar-win for Gore Verbinski”s “Rango.” The effects company co-animated with Lucasfilm Animation Singapore.

For musical fans, the cast couldn”t look more appealing. Alan Cumming (CBS” “The Good Wife,” Broadway”s “Cabaret”), Evan Rachel Wood (“Across the Universe”), Kristin Chenoweth (Broadway”s “Wicked”), Maya Rudolph (“Big Hero 6,” “Bridesmaids”), Sam Palladio (ABC”s “Nashville”), Alfred Molina (“Chocolat”), Elijah Kelley (“Hairspray,” “The Butler”), Bob Einstein (HBO”s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) costar in the film. Peter Stormare is also part of the cast, making us wonder if “Strange Magic” is more like “Dancer in the Dark” than we first imagined.

A major studio revealing a new animated project two months out from release raises a few eyebrows. If “Strange Magic” really has been in the works since 2010, is Disney quietly shuffling it into theaters as part of its deal with Lucasfilm? The film will arrive from the company”s Touchstone Pictures banners, separating it from the Disney Animation and Pixar business. It”s hard to deny the talent involved, but something is up with this out-of-nowhere release. Or maybe Walt Disney Pictures is looking to claim Best Animated frontrunner status in the first month of 2015?

“Strange Magic” lands in theaters on Jan. 23, 2015.