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Film Review: 'The Magic Flute' lacks originality and shortchanges its intended youthful audience

Courtesy of Shout! Studios
Based on Mozart's 'The Magic Flute,' the film takes watchers on adventures featuring giant snakes, witches and more.

Florian Sigl’s 'The Magic Flute' joins elements of today's pop culture with Mozart’s 1791 opera. The opera may have been popular in the 18th century, but is now with the passage of time is situated in the world of high art.

To pull off this melding, Sigl builds a story around the opera: a high school kid named Tim (Jack Wolfe) goes off to the Mozart All Boys Music School in Austria, where he hopes to train to be an opera singer, and maybe someday sing the role of Prince Tamino in Mozart’s opera. On the train ride, Tim sparks with Sophie (Niamh McCormack) who goes to the girls’ school right across the way. Whenever they plan to meet, Mozart intrudes, because Tim keeps getting thrust into some other plane of existence where the opera is playing out and he’s a somewhat confused Prince Tamino.

Director Florian Sigl may not be happy to hear this, but what I thought about the most while I watched his movie was a pair of TV shows — 'One Tree Hill,' which ran from 2003 to 2012 and was a show I watched with my daughter for a couple of years, and 'The Vampire Diaries.' What these three shows have in common is that they wallow in Möbius strips of endless teen whining. So-and-so likes so-and-so who complains about so-and-so.

The actor F. Murray Abraham sits at a desk smiling looking up with his hands raised in exclamation as a student played by Jack Wolfe looks on. They are in a room full of antiques.
F. Murray Abraham, who plays the head of the Mozart School, and Jack Wolfe in a scene from the film 'The Magic Flute.'

Sophie’s annoying father, played by F. Murray Abraham, who also played the annoying Salieri in the 1984 Mozart bio-pic 'Amadeus' (and went on to win the Oscar for his performance), is the head of the Mozart School. And that bit of casting indicates just how much of 'Magic Flute' seems borrowed from other movies. Inside the opera world, the chasing feels like re-runs of Harry Potter; a rush through a Middle Eastern market with pots and pans and vegetables sent flying, recalls dozens of movies including James Bond pictures, and Indiana Jones adventures. Of course there’s a bully at the school and of course he’s reclaimed to be a good kid again, and of course Tim has a roommate who is typically a little pudgier with a rounder face.

This is one second-hand movie. I don’t believe that young people who don’t know or care about opera will be drawn in with a load of dumbed-down twaddle inserted to make them relate to it — whatever that might mean. Mozart’s opera is about young people in love as they go through a fantasy of the pain and struggles that love entails. Teen struggle is already right there —
the exotic quest for love, the frightful aspect of the Queen of the Night, the humorous side-kick Papageno. And Mozart brings you into that luminous imaginary world without the dreariness of characters talking about themselves, which they do all through this new movie.

Actor Jack Wolfe reacts as he stands in a line and watches someone next to him have a hood pulled over their head and someone is also trying to put one on him. In the background a female actress watches and appears to be wearing a white gown.
The actor Jack Wolfe reacts during a scene in 'The Magic Flute,' a film based on the opera by Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart’s 'The Magic Flute' may not have the brutality of something like 'Game of Thrones', but it doesn’t need the cliches of recent adventure films to goose it up. But, and this is a big but, the film has a pair of fabulous, established opera singers. When Morris Robinson as Sarastro opens his mouth to sing, you’re blown right out of the limitations of this movie into the heart of that kingdom where magic rules.The same is true for forSabine Deveilhe as the Queen of the Night.

 Sabine Devieilhe performing as Queen of the Night in a scene where she appears lit by a full moon and is surrounded by flowing fabric. The scene is monochrome in colors of blue and gray.
Sabine Devieilhe performing as the Queen of the Night in 'The Magic Flute.'

Mozart’s 'The Magic Flute' doesn’t need to be dumbed down and turned into a cheap television show. In my experience, kids know the difference between what’s genuine and what’s been altered to make them like it.

I suggest looking at the 1975 film directed by Ingmar Bergman. It’s light-hearted, and it’s got genuine magic. If you choose to see this film, here are a few showtimes in the area.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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