Secret Magic Control Agency 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Aleksey Tsitsilin
Writers: Analisa LaBianco, Vladimir Nikolaev
Stars:Erica Schroeder, Mary O’Brady, Georgette Reilly
A fun, fantasy family adventure having such a dry, bureaucratic-sounding title as Secret Magic Control Agency is probably the first clue that Netflix’s new animated offering is Russian. There are plenty more all throughout, though, even if the improving animation studio Wizart has made sure to make the film palatable for a global audience. They’ve done likewise with the target demographic, ensuring that the kiddies will have enough magic, cute animals, and anthropomorphized confectionary to distract them from the more adult-skewing material. Fans of the Brothers Grimm will have an extra treat with all the ways that this film radically – and sometimes cleverly – reworks the classic Hansel and Gretel story for a new crowd.
Here, Gretel works for the titular agency, which is basically the Men in Black but for magicians and sorcerers. She’s a standout, almost bootlicking special agent with a borderline pathological devotion to the state (how very Russian!), but she’s as stumped as anyone else when a monarch of the vaguely defined but apparently pluralist “Kingdom” is kidnapped by a monstrous spaghetti man brought to life by black magic. With nowhere else to turn, the agency’s head Agent Stepmother enlists the help of Gretel’s estranged brother, Hansel, a professional charlatan who makes a decent living faking magical powers for gullible crowds and has previous experience in making people and objects vanish without a trace – even if he returns them afterward.
Naturally, the siblings aren’t on good terms – Gretel has never forgiven her brother for betraying the heroic principles of their parents (she doesn’t know that he spends his profits on helping the truly needy with “magical coins” that are just cold currency), and since she’s so hung up on the idea that she has achieved everything through her own hard work and diligence, she’s appalled that he’s basically a layabout conman. You can expect a plot point about this.
The big plot point, though, is that early into their reluctant partnership Hansel and Gretel are, through magical means, transformed into their childhood selves, making their mission much more complicated since nobody recognizes them or takes them remotely seriously. This is where Secret Magic Control Agency kicks into a higher gear, stringing together imaginative adventure set-pieces with quieter scenes of sibling bonding, and a lot of riffing on established properties. The agency’s archive room is a treasure trove of nods and winks to everything from Pandora’s Box to the One Ring, and the humor and animation styles are cribbed from all over the place.
What’s missing, for the most part, is a single unifying theme beyond a sibling bond, which is only to be expected given the source material. Not all films have to be about something, obviously, especially not animated family pictures, but it helps when they are. Fantasy is a particularly rich canvas for unpacking specific ideas, but Secret Magic Control Agency has too many to count, and nowhere near enough room to make much of any of them. There are, for instance, two witches, one a classical Baba Yaga more reminiscent of a fairytale, and the other a disgruntled cook with designs to bewitch the state using magical cookies who seems more of a Western archetype. Perhaps, given the prevalence of food in the narrative, it’s fitting that the film wants to have its cake and eat it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be stuffed afterward.
Not to worry, though, since there’s plenty of enjoyable adventure to be had here. Kids will be understandably enraptured by the visuals, and there are enough pleasant tweaks to the age-old story that it’s satisfying to see how they all come together, especially with details like the famous trail of crumbs and the introduction of the Brothers Grimm themselves fulfilling a very specific and indeed meta role for the agency. Among the crowded Netflix thumbnails, Secret Magic Control Agency slots right in alongside something like Son of Bigfoot as a serviceable animated adventure that is probably better than you were expecting but could have been a lot more.