The Magic Flute (2023) Movie Review: Bargain Harry Potter Set to Opera

I’m not familiar with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s original opera, The Magic Flute, nor am I familiar with other renditions that have been done by Kenneth Branagh, Ingmar Bergman, and Julie Taymor. But I am holding out hope that, at least, the original source is somewhat intriguing. This version, from first-time director Florian Sigl, feels like it’s a desperate attempt to get the attention of fans of the YA genre, namely the Harry Potter series.

The folks at Honest Trailers would have a field day picking this apart and placing any one of the Harry Potter films, primarily the first one, side-by-side with Sigl’s film. A young boy goes to a prestigious school for a particular set of skills (here, it’s music). He encounters a lot of people with eerily similar wardrobe, gets into a dispute with at least one professor that has a very snake-like appearance, stumbles across wizardry in some form, and the list goes on. The only difference here is that it incorporates opera, some of which is recognizable to those with a very basic knowledge of the genre (myself included). Then it tries to incorporate more modern music, which gives the leads the opportunity to sing, and it’s not very good. Some of it sounds like it is dubbed, as at least one person’s vocals change mid-song.

When Tim Walker (Jack Wolfe, of Shadow and Bone fame) sets out to attend the Mozart All Boys Music School, he aspires to become a respected musician and singer. Of course, there are obstacles he encounters along the way, including what is mentioned in the above paragraph. Another is when he enters a whole new world that encapsulates Mozart’s famous opera, The Magic Flute. In this world, anything can happen – whether he encounters a giant snake or meets with an almost jester-like figure in Papageno (Iwan Rheon from Game of Thrones). This world is ruled by the Queen of the Night (Sabine Devieilhe), and anything beyond your imagination can happen.

With a two-hour runtime, it feels like The Magic Flute needed to be longer. The amount of plot that is crammed in becomes confusing, as the movie jumps between this fantastical world and the world in which the main character is involved. There’s very little time to get invested in the story and characters, and what is presented is something that is drab, dull, and uninspired.

There are some clever and apt pieces in the casting. F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar for his work in 1984’s Amadeus and rightfully so, stars as the school’s strict instructor, Dr. Longbow. Devieilhe, a French operatic soprano, reprises her performance as Queen of the Night – which she originally played in a 2017 production for The Royal Opera House. Having these two experienced performers in the film, and with their connection to Mozart, is a fun connection to make for those who maybe have seen other versions of the original opera. But beyond that, there isn’t much else. Abraham, while the most veteran performer in the film, doesn’t get much to do beyond the basic role of a strict teacher.

Devieilhe’s talent is exceptional when it calls for more operatic moments to be performed. Having previously played the role, she steps into this film with little hesitation. But when she’s not present, the film becomes a mostly tedious and dreary affair.

This version of The Magic Flute becomes too claustrophobic in trying to incorporate both the world that Mozart created and the Harry Potter-inspired world that it wants to mimic. And in the end, we’re left with a movie that doesn’t succeed in either category.

The Magic Flute releases to theaters on March 10, 2023.

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David Wangberg

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