***This is a user-submitted post by our reader Esther about a Japanese animated film called Unico. For her review of the first film in the series, go here.***
“The Island of Magic” is Unico’s second journey into a world of magic and colorful characters. The story addresses the dangers of neglect and bullying as well as the value of loyalty and compassion.
Unico arrives in a forest where he is mistreated by several of the inhabitants and hunted down by a magician and his apprentice. He’s rescued by a girl named Cheri and her parents. After gradually warming up to Cheri, Unico learns that the apprentice is Cheri’s older brother who ran away years ago to study magic. Toby returns to show off his new tricks but instead of applauding him, Toby’s family is frightened and unimpressed with his talents.
The family is invaded by Toby’s master, a sorcerer named Lord Kuruku. He transforms Toby and Cheri’s parents into giant “Living Puppets” and commands Toby to do the same to everyone in the town. Cheri and Unico watch the townspeople and forest creatures become living puppets who march off to Kuruku’s island where they will fortify his castle. Toby manages to rescues Cheri and Unico from Kuruku’s clutches and they embark on a journey to the end of the earth, allied with a Sphinx’s child, to learn how to defeat Kuruku once and for all.
Scenes to Note
Toby’s flute theme – Anyone who’s seen this movie remembers the haunting flute melody like Toby plays like a Pied Piper as Kuruku’s newly-transformed army of puppets marches obediently towards his hideout where they are building themselves up to fortify his fortress.
The wind-up dragon – One of Kuruku’s minions, he’s a giant metal dragon with googly eyeballs who whirls around on wheels and screeches with fiery breath. He doesn’t have a complex design but he does look like something you don’t want starring at you in the dark. My theory is that he was one of several toys shoved into the back of a chest until Kuruku brought him to life to fulfill his master’s bidding.
Dance of the Toys – Kuruku is an example of how hatred can take hold in a person and harm others. Cheri and Unico learn that Lord Kuruku was once an inanimate puppet who was discarded by humans. Years of isolation caused his feelings to manifest until his body came to life. His mission is one of cruel irony: to control and manipulate all living things for his own amusement. Unico and Cheri temporarily fall victim to Kuruku and perform in a dance along with his other toys while he watches on gleefully.
Love above all odds – Toby’s father tells him that magic cannot guarantee happiness or replace the joys of family life. Toby chooses to disobey Kuruku’s orders and protect his sister Cheri. When Unico realizes how much Cheri loves him he is able to “power up” into his strongest form. These are all examples of the characters impacted by selfless love in contrast to Kuruku, who constantly fuels himself with hatred. He goads everyone on to despise him so that he can become stronger through their fear and even anticipates Unico’s attack in the climax of the film.
Unico does not fight Kuruku in his “powered up” form yet he manages to wound him severely. When asked why he spared Kuruku’s life Unico frankly admits, “I know what it’s like to be alone. You do bad things because you don’t know how to do anything else.” Unico’s empathy weakens Kuruku greatly just before his powers seep out of his body and the enchanted castle crumbles apart.
When I was growing up, many of the darker cartoons used to entertain and disturb me simultaneously including The Secret of NIMH, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. But the Unico films never left a disturbing impression. Maybe I just knew that he’d get up and save the day so I wasn’t afraid of any grotesque monsters or creeping shadows that came onto the screen. But I never had to cover my eyes from watching the movies.
They are stories about the triumph of good over evil, loving kindness over selfishness, and perseverance over despair. They were a part of my childhood and I consider myself fortunate to revisit them now.
Watch Unico in the Island of Magic: DVD