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Legacy Review

Upside-Down Magic (2020)

The Upside-Down Magic book is about a group of kids whose magic doesn’t work quite the same way as the kids around them, but whose institutions recognize their worth.Unlike the typical fantasy trope, these different magicians aren’t more powerful than the “normal” kids — in fact, everyday life is often harder for them — but both the “Upside Down” magicians and the world around them are improved when they are included and respected and given space to work in their own way.

It is, in other words, a lovely little metaphor for neurodivergent students and the importance of building societal structures to support them. It’s an extremely refreshing take on magic school tropes.

Thus I was flabbergasted and outraged that the adaptation turns that story, well, upside down: Here, the institutions are openly hostile to “UDM” kids, explicitly marking them as inferior and best shunted away.

Maybe if I hadn’t read the book and had its metaphor on the mind, this wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but it seems so mean-spirited. Generic, too: The movie ends up feeling like a bland misunderstood geniuses story, a la dollar store A Bugs Life.

The movie’s best addition is the intense, almost romantic, friendship between protagonists Nori and Reina, plus a dark-temptation-of-power subplot for Reina. The film’s middle act, which explores these threads, is easily its best, although never anywhere near “good.”

It all comes together in a climax so utterly predictable and by-the-numbers that it plays like a checklist of required plot beats. Just a total snoozer.

The production values are occasionally solid but more often quite bad and/or repetitive. The coolest bits are some CGI hybrid animals; but the final boss villain, a shadow monster, feels designed and rendered in fifteen minutes; a gray, murky nothing.

My daughters really liked it, but that’s not enough for me to give it any brownie points this time.

Is It Good?

Not Good (2/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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