Unico in the Island of Magic Review 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Edofl2MH98I

Theme Song by Brian Setzer and owned by Walt Disney Records

 

Hello ladies and gents! Today we’re going to take a look at a very different animated film. It was a childhood favorite of mine and I love it even more today. That film is Unico and the Island of Magic! The film is one of 2 films based off of the manga series created by Osamu Tezuka. For my non animation buff readers Osamu Tezuka is considered to be the Walt Disney of Japanese animation. He was born in 1928 and started drawing at a very young age and published his first manga at 17 (after WW2) and that was the beginning of the Golden Age of manga similar to the Golden Age of American comics that started with Superman. Japanese artists to this day call him “Manga no Kami Sama” (God of manga). He eventually started an animation studio and worked on anime as well as manga. Being heavily influenced by Walt Disney and other American animation studios he utilized the technology and techniques to take the medium of animation in new and grand directions and has been praised by Walt himself and even famous director Stanley Kubrick. Drawing inspiration from Walt Disney cartoons and Betty Boop Tezuka created the anime design staple of large eyes on characters. Tezuka went on to create characters such as Kimba (ironically Disney would rip this off for Lion King), the brilliant and mysterious doctor Black Jack, and his most famous creation Astro Boy. After Tezuka’s death in 1989 his influence on anime and manga has continued and will never cease. Famous anime directors and artists carry on his legacy such as Akira Toriyama (creator of the Dragonball universe) and most notably Hayao Miyazaki.

 

Osamu Tezuka

Now that the background info has been taken care of let’s get back to Unico shall we? I didn’t know this at the time, but Unico was actually a manga series. The premise of the story is that Unico is this young and cute Unicorn that is so happy and kind that it inspires goodness and happiness in others. But the Gods are a bunch of assholes in this universe and they are jealous and vain and don’t want anyone else to be able to have that effect on people so they mark Unico for death and appoint the Spirit of the Night Wind to exile Unico and assassinate him. The Spirit of the West Wind takes pity on Unico and rescues him and transports the little guy across the world and leaves him in locations where the Gods won’t find him. Unico being the kind guy that he is always helps people with their problems and doesn’t keep a low profile so the Gods find him leaving the West Wind to always take Unico to another location and have Unico NOT even say goodbye to his newfound friends and utilizing anime cliché # 56 the West Wind wipes his memory every time! (I know that part doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but go with it). It’s a built in plot device that gives the story people license to hit the “reset button” whenever they feel it’s convenient. This particular film is all about one of Unico’s adventures and is the last Unico movie made. This film may not be the most emotionally gripping or the best animated film ever, but the solid and sweet story and characters are more than enough to keep me watching for the past 20 years. This film is also a perfect example of how anything is possible in animation. That any world or place that the imagination creates can be brought to magical and astounding life!

STORY

 

The story of this Unico film begins with the standard dropping off of Unico by the West Wind. And Unico is dropped off in a mystical forest of talking animals (where the only animals that can talk are cats), but none of them are in the mood of greeting outsiders and give the poor thing the cold shoulder. After a run in with the very annoying self proclaimed leader of the forest Melvin MagnifiCat he is shunned and is chased away. While sulking Unico hears a mysterious flute and is drawn to the music like all the other animals. It turns out it is being played by a mysterious man who is later to be revealed to be an apprentice magician who works for the villain of the film and without warning he attacks the animals transforming them into wooden figures. During the chase the mystery man’s name is revealed to be Toby and he takes Melvin MagnifiCat under his wing. After Unico escapes from Toby and Melvin he falls in the river and ends up in the care of a young girl named Sheri and her family. After befriending Sheri it is revealed that Sheri had a brother who ran away from home about a year ago and that night during a storm Sheri’s brother returns and it turns out to be Toby. The family reunion is far from pleasant and when Toby’s master the evil Lord Kuruku shows up he insists Toby carry out his orders by turning all the humans into “Living Puppets” (the term used for the transformation into the wooden puppet figures). Lord Kuruku is kind enough to give Toby a head start by turning Toby’s parents into Living Puppets (while Toby hides Sheri and Unico under his cloak) Toby reluctantly departs, but tells Sheri to hide herself in the forest. Toby proceeds to attack the village and gathers all the new Puppets onto a freighter and Toby sails it to Kuruku’s base “Nightmare Island”. Unico and Sheri sneak aboard and once on the island find Kuruku and try to talk to him to convince him to stop this madness. That obviously doesn’t work. Toby is summoned and uses a cunning trick to spare Sheri and Unico by transforming them into “Toys” (the transformation that Toby knows how to reverse) and adding them to Kuruku’s collection of “Living Toys”. When Kuruku isn’t looking Toby takes Sheri and Unico away and goes on assignment to attack the Valley of the Demons. Sheri and Unico decide to follow him there, but learn that Kuruku is the one that needs to be confronted and they go on a quest to find the Sphinx for guidance and knowledge on how to stop Kuruku, but it turns out simply the Sphinx is not home and so the Sphinx’s son (I will explain later) suggests that the Trojan Horse might know and the Trojan Horse is located in the “Ends of the Earth”. After flying there the Trojan Horse explains Kuruku’s origin and that only courage and love can stop him. Now before you say that’s totally lame I’ll explain when I talk about Kuruku’s character. After hearing the story the group returns to Nightmare Island for the final confrontation. After Toby refuses his master a fight breaks out and Toby loses and gets turned into a puppet along with the Sphinx’s son, Melvin and even Sheri. Unico decides to take a stand against Kuruku and reluctantly fights him. After taking pity on Kuruku and one last chance at understanding Kuruku is shocked at Unico’s genuine sympathy, kindness, and forgiveness and it eats away at Kuruku’s evil and hate and defeats Kuruku. After a stunning visual sight of Nightmare Island being broken down all the animals and people are back to normal and the West Wind returns to pick Unico up and spirits him away without having Unico even say goodbye to Sheri.

 

This story is very good. My synopsis DOES NOT DO THIS MOVIE JUSTICE AT ALL!!!!!!! It must be seen for oneself. It’s a very flowing narrative. One scene just flows into another and that’s why I couldn’t sum the movie up into a paragraph and have it be good. I love how it balances a lot of emotional moments a lot like Disney films do. There are magical moments, there are happy and light moments, there are dark moments, there are even creepy moments. The friendship between Unico and Sheri is very sweet and heartfelt and I love it! Which brings me to my problems with the movie.

 

My main problem with the movie is with how the Unico stories end. It’s not just Unico it’s a fair amount of anime. Sometimes the show just ends with no real resolution to the issues that were built up in the premise of the show. If you’re a fan of Rumiko Takahashi’s work you know what I’m talking about. In Unico’s this constant resetting makes me feel less attached because I don’t see a point watching if Unico’s just going to forget and NOT subconsciously draw upon those friendships and emotions later in another adventure. That’s why I recommend just watching one Unico story and I suggest you make it this one. The other problems are simply the minor plotholes like how does Unico know where to find the End of the Earth and how the memory erasing thing makes no sense and in some respects is kind of cruel. Seriously when Unico asks to say goodbye to Sheri the West Wind says “She will never forget you.” Yeah, but how does that make Unico feel? Oh wait his memory wipe will take care of everything. And when Unico asks why he needs to be taken away the West Wind replies “That is your fate.” So really this movie ends on a “life sucks” note. I’m not asking for a happy ending here like Unico staying with Sheri, but I would have liked a heartfelt and sad farewell. The way it is it’s very rushed and I just wanted closure. Surprisingly as a kid that kind of ending didn’t bother me.

Still these flaws don’t detract from the magical experience of watching this film.

CHARACTERS

 

Melvin MagnifiCat

He is the self proclaimed master of the forest. He is Unico’s first contact in this new locale and is a very annoying and just all around unlikeable cat. He does kind of have a role as “comic relief” big emphasis on the quotes there and he does ask exposition questions as well as help Toby out in a few instances, but other than that he doesn’t really change at least not from what is seen in the rushed ending. Now I’m going to use this time to talk about the Sphinx’s son. The Sphinx’s son is not important enough to get a full character slot because his importance to the plot is simply him telling Sheri and Unico about the Trojan Horse. That’s it. He just tags along for the rest of the movie and doesn’t do anything of significance and also he’s kind of annoying.

Sphinx son image

Lord Kuruku

Kuruku is a great villain! He’s basically a puppet that was brought to life by mysterious forces and plans vengeance against the whole world especially humans. Think of him as Woody (Toy Story) and Pinocchio’s psychotic and demonic lovechild and you have Kuruku. He was always abused as a puppet and treated like crap and was eventually thrown away. All things discarded end up at the Ends of the Earth and the mystical sunlight brings Kuruku to life and he plots vengeance. He delights in hurting others and causing discomfort and sadness and when someone calls him a bad person he sees it as a compliment. He wants to turn every single living being into a Living Puppet and he has used Toby to gather them and his entire castle on Nightmare Island is all made out of Living Puppets and once the castle is complete he can control every living creature in the same way he was played with controlled and abused. He’s the ultimate control freak wanting to control, manipulate and abuse his collection. I like his design a lot it’s creepy and inventive and I love his drastic mood swings. When someone tries to be nice to him he immediately goes into this maniacal rage and when someone calls him out on his evil deeds he is the happiest guy around. He is a lonely being that has never had a friend or had anyone show kindness toward him. Remember when I said that the Trojan Horse explains that only kindness and love can defeat Kuruku well it makes sense because it’s already established that Unico has that power and if he really talks to the hateful person in question it will work. When Unico actually fights Kuruku and wounds him Unico being the kind and pure soul that he is apologizes. Kuruku is absolutely stunned at this apology and Unico continues his kind approach and shows his pity for Kuruku and willingness to help. This causes a chain reaction where Kuruku constantly starts to break down and it shows that Unico’s powers are working and that Kuruku’s hate is subsiding. Kuruku didn’t need to be reasoned with, all that Kuruku needed was someone to care. Kuruku’s hate is so weakened that his powers can’t sustain his actual existence and he returns to being a normal puppet. I like this because it takes a very different approach from the “we need to defeat the villain!” routine. This gets down to the tragedy that created Kuruku and how the pure heart and soul of Unico is the best weapon against hatred. A great villain! Another thing worth mentioning is after Unico is taken away Sheri finds Kuruku as a lifeless puppet and she decides to take care of him and treat him right so that this whole thing doesn’t start all over again.

 

Toby

Toby is my favorite character. He’s cool and mysterious and he has magical powers. He has the magical power of creating flowers on any surface! We all know that’s cool! His speed, agility and precision in attacking the towns and turning people into Living Puppets it’s both awesome and horrifying because he has such a cold look on his face while doing it. Still behind that stoic face we know that he is truly contemplating his reasons for doing this. Once Kuruku orders him to start changing humans he feels uncomfortable about it and settles for continuing to learn more tricks and when he learns to reverse the Living Puppet spell he can turn on Kuuruku and save everyone. He also constantly tries to protect Sheri. He loves his little sister and does what he can to keep her away from Kuruku. When Toby refuses to turn Sheri into a Living Puppet Toby and Kuruku fight. It’s a very well done scene. It shows for all of Toby’s finesse that Kuruku is simply better and Toby loses that fight and is turned into a puppet along with the rest. Also he plays the awesome flute that controls the puppets which is just awesome!!

 

Sheri

Sheri is a kind girl and is friendly and cheerful. When she meets Unico they become good friends and as the film progresses the friendship gets stronger and it’s just sweet. She feels compelled to face Kuruku because she wants to help her brother and to help those that were hurt by her brother. Sheri confronts her fears and makes a great sacrifice when she protects Unico from Kuruku’s spell and gets transformed into a Living Puppet herself. She even showed kindness to Kuruku by taking him in and deciding to take care of him. It shows how Unico’s kindness rubs off on everyone.

 

Unico

Now for the title character himself. Unico as I’ve said before is a very cute, kind and sweet creature who would not desire harm to anyone, but is willing to help people in any way he can and often gets involved in conflicts and solves them which inevitably alert the gods to his presence. Still his powers are pretty cool. He can light up his horn and he can turn into like this Pegasus unicorn that can fly great distances non stop. Which immediately begs the question why can’t he get away from the Gods himself? The second time he transforms it looks very controlled like he can do it at anytime and not struggle with it. Still it’s very cool and there are times I wish he stayed in his grown up form. Unico’s courage and love is what defines him and even though he doesn’t have magic he will stand by his friends in danger. He even stood up to one of the most powerful magicians in the world. A great character!

 

MUSIC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BhtiWyW-erM

Interestingly enough the writer and director is also the composer! Composer Norimi Murano does an excellent job with the music! I love the theme that plays when Unico is flying everyone to the Ends of the Earth and I love Toby’s flute. The music is a huge reason why this movie is so magical! The flute is beautiful and that is half the reason why I love the March of the Living Puppets scene so much!

 

ARTISTIC PRESENTATION

 

This is probably the best thing about Unico. This is truly a timeless world that is very unique imaginative and magical. This world has gods, spirits, friendly and cute looking demons, and sorcerer puppets! It has it all! The animation is very good for it’s time and looks so different and just so creative! As far as acting and dubbing goes it’s not the best, but believe me I’ve heard much worse and as I said some characters can get annoying. Now this movie is very special because it takes it’s creativity so well that it gives scenes that offer different emotional responses. There are scenes in here that are flat out creepy yet they’re magical! The March of the Living Puppets is so magical and awesome, but it’s creepy! Have no fear though because no scene is so creepy that it takes you out of the experience. It’s creepy because it makes sense. Another example of creepiness yet magical moments is the scene where Kuruku plays with his “Toys”. Sheri and Unico have been transformed into toys and Kuruku makes his toy collection dance for him. It’s trippy and weird yet it contributes to Kuruku being a creepy control freak and that a Puppet is playing with toys. Enjoy the imagination, beauty, magic, and creepiness of Unico!

 

TOBY’S ATTACK ON THE TOWN/ MARCH OF THE LIVING PUPPETS

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

While not a perfect movie it is still an amazing movie that I have always loved and will continue to love. It’s great characters, wonderful music, imaginative world make it  a great movie! This is a film that proves without a doubt that anything is possible with animation!

 

VERDICT: 4 Living Puppets out of 5!

I’m going to be very selective what old articles I bring over in the interest of time. What will I post next? Something old something new? I don’t know. See you guys next time!

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