Mimicking the best and worst of a Disney live-action feature, French-Canadian tuner "Magic" makes for an easygoing though not entirely convincing family musical.

Mimicking the best and worst of a Disney live-action feature, French-Canadian tuner “Magic” makes for an easygoing though not entirely convincing family musical. Conceived by writer-helmer Philippe Muyl (“The Butterfly”) and monomonikered singer-actor Cali, this tale of a traveling circus that casts its spell on a single mom and her preteen son is a concoction of hopeful songs, colorful visuals and slap-happy troubadours. But whether the simplistic scenario and retro feel will enchant today’s Pixar-savvy kids is questionable. Oct. 22 release was more respectable than magical, and biz beyond Francophone territories will be limited.

To its credit, in an era of Broadway adaptations and pop compilations, “Magic” attempts an original screen musical — and one that aims for broad cross-generational appeal. Yet its approach to love, life and circus folk — shown as the friendliest, most cheerful people on earth — seems too naive for auds beyond pre-K. So, too, songs with titles like “Happy Red Nose” and “Such a Pretty Sky.”

Opening sequences, rendered in sun-drenched widescreen by vet d.p. Pierre Gill (“The Covenant”), present the rolling pastoral homestead of Betty (Marie Gillain), a self-sufficient beekeeper and mother of 10-year-old Tommy (Louis Dussol). Betty spends nights combing the Internet for the perfect guy, while Tommy sings a song to the moon in the hopes that his deadbeat dad, whom he thinks is a cosmonaut, will “descend from the clouds and take him in his arms.”

Their lives take a change for the better when a traveling circus sets up shop in Betty’s humungous backyard, bringing with it a cast of zany, fun-loving characters, topped by clown duo Baptiste (Cali) and Auguste (Antoine Dulery). While Auguste quickly befriends Tommy, Baptiste has his heart set on Betty. When he gets her alone, he delivers his best pickup line: “When I look at you, I see stars in your eyes.”

Amid plenty of carnival gags and magic tricks (Martin Tessier’s production design is composed largely of floating soap bubbles), the narrative meanders to an extremely foreseeable conclusion.

Gillain plays a more subdued and mature role than in her previous efforts with helmers Bertrand Tavernier and Danis Tanovic, but her carnal physicality contrasts too much with Cali’s scrawny, crusty look to make their screen romance believable. Dulery (“Camping”) delivers a strong, light-hearted perf as Tommy’s older guide.

Polished tech package makes the one-act storyline pleasant to watch, and toddlers should enjoy the dreamy locations, vivid sets and performing animals.

Magic

France-Canada

Production

A Paramount Pictures France (in France) release of a Pan-Europeenne Prod., Paramount Pictures France (France)/Remstar (Canada) production, with participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star, CNC, Telefilm Canada. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Nathalie Gastaldo, Andre Rouleau, Camille Trumer, Karen Adler. Directed, written by Philippe Muyl.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Pierre Gill; editor, Richard Comeau; music, Cali; lyrics, Philippe Muyl; production designer, Martin Tessier; costume designer, Annie Dufort; sound (Dolby Digital), Gabor Vadnay, Marcel Pothier, Stephane Bergeron; assistant director, Pierre Magny; casting, Bruno Rosato. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 9, Paris, Oct. 25, 2008. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Marie Gillain, Cali, Antoine Dulery, Louis Dussol, Benoit Briere, Holly O'Brien, Rachel Gauthier, Stephane Breton, Evelyne de la Cheneliere.
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