What it is that does follow, however, is not quite as inspiring (or perhaps surprising is a better word…) as that opening shot. Though all of The Magic Flute has a certain degree of visual acuity guiding it, it never again bothers to shoot for greatness. Branagh has altered the setting of the Mozart’s work and has translated the book into English, he stays pretty true to the opera’s story, relaying its relative blandness without enough of the energy that he had in the film’s opening. Obviously, the opera that serves as source material has stood the test of time, so my relative indifference toward it might put me in a minority opinion (I am fairly indifferent to Bergman’s filmed version as well). That being said, I don’t think anyone can deny that the opera suffers somewhat due to the relative tiresomeness of the leads. These two star-crossed lovers alternate between exploding with romantic rapture and wailing on the verge of suicide, with little shading in-between.
Mozart himself must have on some level suspected that his protagonists were sticks in the mud, because he counterpoints their romance with a tongue-in-cheek comic relief couple. Branagh does a much better time in relaying their courtship, thanks to a strong comedic performance courtesy of Benjamin Jay Davis, who plays the bird loving Papageno. These funnier scenes more closely match the overdone candy color shadings that Branagh has chosen to employ, and as a result they become the film’s most emotionally interesting moments. These sequences rely on mugging for the camera (everyone still does stage acting, even though the film doesn’t feel especially stagy otherwise) and animal reaction shots for audience reaction, but at least they manage to stimulate audience reaction. The rest of it is somewhat inert, and never quite congeals into a cohesive vision. Branagh doesn’t ever quite justify the WWI backdrop, but in an entire film so weird and haphazard, that’s one of the smaller complaints.