Oblivion Island is a CGI animated film that was released in 2009 to commemorate Fuji Television’s fiftieth anniversary. As it mentions boldly on the DVD case, it went on to win three animation awards, and became nominated for two others. This is quite a feat, seeing how it’s basically another Alice in wonderland type story, and those have become pretty much a dime a dozen in recent years. But looking past that, when the film is taken at it’s own merits, did it really deserve those awards? Let’s take a look.
The movie opens with a stylized piece of animation that tells the audience about a race of fox spirits who sneak around your property, stealing any of your possessions that’ve become neglected or unloved. This story is being told by Haruka’s mother, who’s being visited by her husband and daughter on what will soon become her death bed. Haruka says she won’t get visited by the foxes, because she takes care of her possessions, including a beautiful mirror that her mother gave her. I wonder where this is going.
Fast forward about ten years, to when Haruka is a sixteen year old student, her father is working hard to support her, and right off the bat, Haruka comes off as a very unlikeable character. She walks into the house with a friend from school, sees that it’s still a mess, and complains that her father doesn’t clean the house often enough. She’s pissed that he drank her ginger ale, as well as at the fact that he’s rarely home. Because of his job. Where’s the Facebook Parenting guy when you need him?
Looking at her clock somehow reminds her of her mother’s mirror, which she lost several years ago, so she visits a shrine to the fox spirits to ask for it back. Her keys fall behind the stairs to the shrine, so she crawls underneath to get them back. She places them on the step, but before she can get out, a fox spirit runs up and takes them, offering us our first actual plothole of the movie(wait for it). She follows him to the base of a tree, where she gets sucked into the Land of the Lost. At least that’s what I’m calling it. She meets up with the terrified fox, and accuses him of theft, but he reassures her that he doesn’t steal. He reclaims abandoned and neglected objects.
Okay, so there are two plotholes here. First of all, yes, he just STOLE her keys, which had only been on the step for a few minutes. Not abandoned, not neglected. And despite being a fox, he didn’t notice her there less than a foot in front of his face. Is his vision based on movement? Did Alan Grant write that scene? And I’m sorry, but if these fox spirits were really this careless, we’d have captured at least one by now.
Okay, back to the story… She promises to give him her keys if he helps her to get her mirror back, which she believes must be down here. This is where the plot finally takes off, and trust me, it has more holes in it than Spongebob Squarepants eating swiss cheese in the middle of a shootout.
Production wise, Oblivion Island is pretty underwhelming. It’s a fully CGI movie, so it doesn’t have the typical anime problems… Like low frame rates and frozen images… But it’s still really cheap looking. The style and quality of the animation seem like an awkward cross between Mr. Stain in Junk Alley and a Kingdom Hearts cutscene. The artwork is colorful and highly detailed, but at the same time bland and gummy looking. There are times when it breaks away from this happy color palette long enough to really shine, like the real world scenes, and a giant skeletal beast that they deal with late in the movie, but for the most part, this movie is visually unremarkable.
The story is well paced, and never boring, but the amount of contrived plot twists and broken physics rules that they had to use to tell the story is just absurd. Despite his species being prevalent in the opening animation, and the basis of the entire japanese myth, Teo’s the only fox spirit we ever meet. At one point in the movie, Te’o has to give a speech about humans not being all that bad, although he’s the only character in the movie who was ever afraid of her. He shows them a wind-up toy plane she built, and they react like they’ve never seen one before. Her mirror was supposedly stolen from the Baron by some mysterious underground thieves, but when they go underground to retrieve it, there’s nobody down there who looks capable of such a feat. Just creepy dolls, slimy bugs, and a sorta-cool giant monster that looks like a cross between a rancor and an ugly quilt.
But my real problem with this movie, above all else, is the ending. As ridiculous and dumbly-plotted as this movie was, it could have been saved by having a smart ending. As it turned out, when they came back to the surface with the mirror, the Baron was waiting at that location… Somehow… and takes it, along with his new prisoner Haruka. Now, this is what I was hoping would happen;
Upon entering his castle, Haruka notices that the Baron really does love and treasure her mirror. It’s like a comfort blanket to him. Being without it for so long has driven him mad, and having it back, his life is complete again. She realizes that she doesn’t need some mirror to remind her of her mother, because the memories in her heart are enough. She agrees to leave this world empty handed, but not empty hearted, as she’s taking a valuable life lesson, and several steps towards maturity, along with her.
Of course, that doesn’t happen. I won’t tell you exactly what actually happens, but to put it in broad strokes, The Baron is a Bond villain, and the mirror is a MacGuffin. The entire third act of this obviously eastern-inspired movie is nothing but an explosion of westernized cliches. Haruka learns to appreciate her father and her possessions, but she never really grows or develops as a character, because *Spoiler alert* she got exactly what she came for.
I own a 12 inch stuffed Bulbasaur that my father won for me at a carnival when I was little. I love it, treasure it, and still own it. It’s on my dresser as we speak. But if one of my little cousins saw it and fell in love with it, I’d surrender it in a heartbeat. Why? Because when you grow up, your childhood relics deserve to be with someone who needs them more than you. Toy Story 3 nailed this idea, and in a different way, so did Labyrinth, both of which are American movies.
Overall, it’s a pretty bad movie by all accounts, but it’s not terrible. It’s watchable. It’s safe and entertaining for younger audiences, at least those who are young enough to watch The Santa Clause without asking any questions. I give this movie a 5/10. I don’t think it really deserved any of those awards it won, but it’s worth a rental.