The Secret of Magic Island
aka Une Fée… Pas Comme les Autres aka Secret of Outer Space Island
Written and directed by Jean Tourane
An all animal cast live their lives in their village, and deal with carnivals, an evil troll, giant spiders, and dark magic as a cat, duckling, and puppy fight to save the day. Une fée… pas comme les autres is a unique feature that’s concept and execution help set it above much of the children’s programming at the time, even if the plot is largely absent in favor of many scenes of animals just doing people things. It is still an amazing production, and I guarantee I would be a huge fan of this had I saw it when I was five, to a “worn out VHS tape” degree.
Creator Jean Tourane is an artist who specialized in painting and photography, most famously for animal portraits. Tourane then began filming some of the animal antics, creating narratives for them. His created the character Saturnin the duckling, who became a star with Une Fee Pas Comme Les Autres(Lit. A Fairy…Not Like the Others) in 1956. Saturnin was featured in picture books and children’s books (though I am not too sure about their chronology.) In 1964, he created 78 tv episodes for his duckling Saturnin with Saturnin, le petit canard. This series about a duckling secret agent years later made it’s way to America, where it was first cut up into “We’ll be right back!” commercial bookends for weekday and weekend mornings on Fox. Eventually (like two years later!), the shows were repackages as The Adventures of Dynamo Duck, which were a five minute or so long shorts that aired at random times during Saturday mornings on Fox. I remember being very confused because I could never find the show and it seemed to appear at random. I was a big fan, I loved the commercial bumpers and the show was just an overload of gravy train. Unfortunately, it’s also obscure as heck, with only random clips showing up online. Dan Castellaneta (best known for voicing Homer Simpson) voiced Dynamo Duck, giving him a Robert Stack/Don Adams combo voice.
The Secret of Magic Island spends most of the running time showing us amazing images of animals doing just about everything in their own little world. Maybe 10 minutes of the scant 60 minute run time is devoted to the Black Troll stealing a magic fairy wand and the quest to get it back, while the rest is just us all watching a typical day in the animal village as the circus comes to town and everyone has fun. (At least until the Black Troll causes problems!) The whimsy and enthusiasm in some of the scenes is very endearing, you can tell Tourane was very proud of his train (and he should be!) as well as many of the carnival games. The sense of world building is strong, and Magic Island seems like a place you’d want to hang out at. Think about all the cute animal friends. Everyone seems friendly.
Unlike certain films that are almost entirely composed of animals made by artistic eccentrics, the creatures in The Secret of Magic Island look well taken care of, sometimes even enjoying what is going on. Usually they are sitting passive while the offscreen hands manipulate them or their limbs, and often a paw or two is attached to steering wheels or other devices. But it can’t be anything dangerous, because the animals need to be mobile. From what was presented, I would wager these animals are well looked after. Except maybe the bunnies that were smoking, that’s obviously not going to fly in modern day!
Une fée… pas comme les autres was brought to America in 1964 as The Secret of Magic Island thanks to the production company of Joseph E. Levine, a producer who helped create the American version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and is also responsible for things like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Levine used the film as part of his kiddie double feature matinees (the English trailer even specifically mentions it is for a matinee!) Phil Tonken took over narrations duties from Robert Lamoureux for the American version. What plot difference there are will not be learned until we can find an intact copy of the English dub.
Trailers for an English-dubbed version of The Secret of Magic Island have appeared on various Something Weird Video DVDs and even pop up in film festivals, but an actual copy of the English version has yet to surface. However, thanks to the magic of the internet, another version has shown up (in Swedish, which was released there as Per Och Monstret – and this is why I’ll predominantly use the Swedish names for the characters), and also thanks to the magic of the internet, it has fansubs. So The Secret of Magic Island is no longer a secret! MuHAHAHAHAHA!
The Secret of Magic Island is predated as a full film all animal production by the 1948 Bill and Coo, which featured a bird village.
The feathered residents of Chirpendale are terrorized by an evil black crow by the name of “The Black Menace”. But to the citizen’s rescue comes a brave young taxi puller named Bill!
Bill and Coo was made to showcase George Burton’s trained birds (aka Burton’s Birds). There were also a lot of all animal shorts, most famously was the Barkies – the all dog shorts from the 1930s. And let’s not forget the all monkey western The Lonesome Stranger! The Lonesome Stranger was part off the Speaking of Animals series, which began as educational shorts where the animals “talked” and evolved into actual stories. The most famous modern one is probably Milo & Otis, which was probably not fun for the animals involved at all. While searching around I found a whole pack of recent films, a few of which I will hopefully get copies of sooner than later.
The bare minimum of setup we are explained is a ditzy fairy leaves her wand at her best friend’s house, attracting the attention of the fairy’s arch enemy, Black Troll. Black Troll is angry that Fairy rejected his marriage proposal and has vowed revenge, so he will destroy the town that the Fairy guards (Known as Champfleury in French). That’s sure to win her back, chief!
After that introduction, we then follow a typical day in town as the inhabitants go about their business. As most of the film is slice of life scenes, I have no qualms about giving you a blow by blow. First up is Gustaf the mailman…well, mailduck! His wife is always complaining. You know how duck wives are… Gustaf’s job is the perfect excuse to go around town (though he first gets a drink at the pub – run by a puppy!), and we meet Foxy the fox barber, Franz the inventor puppy, and Mr. Julius the bunny news proclamation poster. Whenever any events are happening, Mr. Julius is the one who puts up the notices. Mr. Julius and his wife have a bajillion kids, because they’re rabbits and they’ve done what rabbits do. This has forced Mrs. Julius to become very efficient. Lindqvist is the local carpenter piglet who is making ironing board for his crush
These characters allow Jean Tourane to show off with his Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that the various animals use. Franz has an alarm clock that wakes him up by dumping water on his head. The various rabbit kids are seen getting ready in the morning in a sort of assembly line fashion.
The more important characters come later. The music professor cat, Maestro Ericson, teaches his student Charlie, a puppy. Maestro Ericson is the friend of the Fairy and has the magic wand, but the precise location is currently a secret. Maestro Ericson is happy because his cousin Per is coming to town, Per is a poet who is also a duckling, putting him a cut above many modern poets.
To get to town Per has to take a train, and rest assured, there is a scale model train riding around driven and being ridden by animals! A cat conductor! Saxophone and trumpet parts built into the train engine! The train scenes are full of energy, as trains are exciting and animals on trains are doubly exciting. Despite Per wandering around in the woods looking at bugs and getting lost, he manages miss the train. D’oh! Per chases after the train, which luckily stops because August the scout – a snail – is also on the tracks and needs to get aboard. Per steps on and finds a seat (it is a vary crowded train!)
The Black Troll has a wicked flatscreen setup that lets him see everything that goes on in the Fairy Kingdom. Holy crap, The Secret of Magic Island predicted the future! Though it’s controlled by a steering wheel?!?! Just you wait, the future of remote controls are wheels…
Of course, Black Troll’s spying is just the excuse we need for more slice of life scenes! We meet Lucidor, the cat seamstress (and Lindqvist’s crush) who is trying to sleep – except she lives next to a music school full of song birds that give us a musical interlude! Katja the seamstress assistant is holding down the fort at the shop for her lazy boss. Famous painter puppy Maestro Pretentious paints. The schoolkids play at recess, and one bad puppy runs off to smoke!
Why is Per coming to town, you ask? Because the carnival is also coming to town! Julius posts the posters up all over town. Black Troll sees this as his way to sneak into the town, and disguises himself as a baker with the carnival. This means we get to see a monkey driving a van. This means this movie rules!
Per gets off the train in town and immediately falls in love with a poster drawing of a duckling named Barbara from the carnival.
The poster winks at him (!!) and he tosses it a flower which it catches (!!!)
This movie rules.
Also it is clear poor Per seems to have suffered some sort of psychotic break. Maybe he sat next to one of those hallucinogenic toads on the train….
Per visits his cousin Maestro Ericson, who is still teaching Charlie how to play the organ (longest music class ever!) and Ericson plays a top secret song that give the key to the box with the fairy wand, which is hidden away but pops out of a panel because the right song was played. Maybe you shouldn’t play that song, Ericson! Loose lips sink ships!
The Carnival is here and drives through town, including Fred the late photographer, who speeds through town and almost runs people over.
The townspeople are so excited they get makeovers and new clothes. There is a seriously long sequence where Foxy the fox gives a chicken a shampoo job and complete makeover. Other animals buy clothes and hats, or play pool. Per even visits wise owl psychics who see a blonde in his future. Barbara spies Per from her window and drops a smile, this causes Black Troll to seeth with anger because hates love. Hates hates hates.
The carnival provides us with another long sequence of animals doing things that are different things than that which was done in the town, but also involve all sorts of tiny animal sets constructed by Jean Tourane. There are fun and games and rides. A kitten in a hot air balloon! Fred the puppy taking photographs! Frog stunt daredevils on mopeds! Barbara’s dancing puppet show! Fireworks! Rabbits smoking!
Black Troll’s bakery disguise means he has to make a lot of treats (via magic), and lures Charlie with the promise of free candy, if he plays the song of the fairy, the song Maestro played earlier. Charlie does thanks to the power of gluttony! Sorry, Charlie, deadly sins are bad for a reason, and the Black Troll ties the puppy up!
Black Troll runs to Maestro’s house, gets the wand, and soon it’s thunder and lighting and pouring rain and wind and calamity! The next morning, the whole town is a disaster area. Barbara has turned to stone, Per is crying, because what else are you going to do?
Per goes to talk to an astrologist (another owl like all the spiritual/smart roles seem to be) who says Per must defeat wind, earth, fire, and water. And free an innocent creature. Black Troll laughs in his lair with his wand.
Per and Maestro Ericson ride a balloon. Black Troll fires a rocket at the balloon and blows it up! Yes, this movie involves a monkey firing a magic rocket at a balloon driven by a cat and a duckling. Black Troll is too busy celebrating his victory to notice the parachutes. Maybe he should have magicked himself some brains!
Per and Maestro land near a Monster (an owl) and fall into a dungeon. In the dungeon, they find Charlie, who the monster was about to eat, because that’s what monsters do. Eat puppies. Per frees Charlie, who shows them a secret passage to the Monster’s vehicle, which was half-mole, half-fish.
Why does the Monster have a cool scifi vehicle? It is a good thing as they dive into the sea with it as the Black Troll causes the whole area to explode.
They surface in a swamp where a giant spider lives. A lamb is trapped, and a mechanical giant spider marches towards Per. Charlie dumps a big rock on it and the spider is dead. Hey, is the lamb a Hobbit? Does it have a magic ring? Someone should check.
Instead, doves arrive and declare they are the daughters of the Good Fairy, and that the heroes should take a bath, which will make them invulnerable – and then they’ll show the way. Why the Good Fairy herself can’t be bothered to get off her lazy butt and show them the way is not mentioned.
Next morning, Per and Charlie go right into Black Troll’s castle and are captured (Maestro Ericson was too lazy to go!) Black Troll tries to magic them into stone, but it doesn’t work! Thanks to taking a bath… Black Troll does turn a random bird to stone to test his magic, and gets so angry it isn’t working right he jumps around screaming “Turn to stone!” and accidentally hits himself. And turns to stone.
Thus, good weather returns to the village, everyone returns back to normal, Ralphie gets his Red Ryder BB gun, and all is right with the world. Even the lazy Good Fairy learned not to leave her wand at other people’s houses. A good lesson.
Rated 8/10 (strength training, book reading, sucker sharing, poster time, more poster time, Flash Gordon, citizen, turned to stone)
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