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.