Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Magic Voyage - Review

When I was a kid, I loved this strange animated film called The Magic Voyage, about a woodworm named Pico going on some great adventure across the ocean with his friend Christopher Columbus to rescue a fairy princess from a Satanic hive mind insect swarm. I thought it was such an epic story with great characters and humor, and I couldn't understand why my parents didn't like it. Now, as a young adult, I finally got to see it again... It's awful. I mean, it is so bad! The historical errors alone are bad, but it just makes no sense, is racially insensitive, badly dubbed, and just makes me laugh uncontrollably because it's unintentionally hilarious.

Okay, so apparently this film was made in Germany and was dubbed into English when it was released into America, and believe me, it shows. These creators weren't even trying. The dialog not only misses the mouth movements, it goes on when no one's talking. It's often extraneous and unnecessary, persisting where the original intention was to convey things with action alone, and the extra dialog shows that the creators thought kids were total morons.

I've read that when you're very young or very old, you have a mindset where you're more likely to believe in God because you view the world as if everything has a purpose. I think I was like that when I was young. It was like all the adults were either gods or put there by a god. Everything had some divine purpose. I accepted the poor quality of the dialog as something I didn't understand, that it had some purpose but just was beyond me. I'm older now, though, and I know that the creators were only human and that this is some really bad dubbing.

So, the story's premise is that in 1492, everyone believed the world was flat and if you went too far, you'd tumble off the edge. It's often thought that Columbus was some kind of genius who figured out the world was round. In fact, it was the ancient Greeks who figured it out based on the shadow Earth leaves on the moon. Columbus did some math wrong and thought the Earth was much smaller than everyone thought and that crossing the Atlantic was a good way to get to China. He was wrong. In The Magic Voyage, however, Columbus believes the world is a cube. Um, why? What leads him to believe that? I can sort of rationalize it as him thinking that the edge of the world isn't the end and that you could just continue onwards on the side, but he has a cube globe that clearly shows Africa as on a side, while Europe is on top. Wouldn't travelers have reported going off a cliff and walking on the side to get to where they're going?

Anyway, Pico the woodworm shows up and explains to him that the world is actually round, gnawing his cube globe into a sphere. How does he know? He's eaten a lot of libraries. So, it's common knowledge the Earth is round? No, it's a revolutionary new idea. Columbus realizes that he can use this knowledge to propose a voyage to China, and he goes to see the king. On the way, he sings a song about how he and Pico are best friends forever.

I like friendship songs in general, but this one comes out of nowhere. Pico tells Columbus his theory and suddenly they're best friends? Columbus tosses some kid a coin, and he sings about how they're friends too... and we never see him again. Some woman gives Columbus a pie because he's apparently a ladies' man despite not being very charming or good-looking. Even Columbus' horse is happy, and he sings "I'm as happy as a fly / when he sees me passing by", which strikes me as extremely odd. 'I'm as happy as a parasite looking to munch on my flesh'? The song makes no sense, and the actors are just bad singers.

Columbus gets to the palace, where the king is meeting with geniuses one at a time. The king harasses Leonardo de Vinci and almost kills him, which scares off all the others except our moron protagonist. Columbus describes his idea that because the world is round they could cross the Atlantic to avoid the Turks, but the king becomes outraged and starts to throw him out. And then the queen arrives. She has the real power and is attracted to Columbus for some reason, so he manages to get her to give him three ships. She offers him a gold ship-shaped earring as a token, and the king grabs it to illustrate how Columbus will fall off the edge by tapping the earring on the top of the globe and letting it fall off the edge. But Pico, in the globe, drills a hole out the side of the globe and grabs onto the earring so it looks like it's stuck on the side. The king and queen gasp, thinking it's some sign from God or something. "Pico! It was you all the time!" cries Columbus five seconds after Pico does it, but the king and queen still don't notice, so Columbus gets his ships.

That night, Pico wanders around the palace and sees a golden light coming from a tower. He investigates and finds that it's a fairy princess named Marilyn. Marilyn explains that she's being held prisoner by the evil Swarm Lord, a hive mind made of insects that swarm together to make different shapes, from giant bugs, to demons, to the missing member of Z.Z. Top. Pico tries to rescue her from the bugs, but the Swarm easily defeats him and takes Marilyn to his "kingdom to the west". Good thing his friend is about to set sail for the west.

Now, west is a vague direction. You could go due west, northwest, or southwest and still be said to be going west. The Swarm Lord looks like he's going due west, which would take him toward the middle of the east coast of the United States, somewhere around Virginia. Only, Columbus historically landed in the Bahamas, some thousand miles south of there. Oops.

Anyway, Columbus sets sail. Pico gets left behind, but he manages to get onboard one of the ships by tricking a seagull. There's this conflict with three sailors, who think Columbus is insane and will drive them off the edge, so they're spying on him. His relationship with Pico is a subject of concern. One of them thinks it's mad to have a woodworm for a pet on a wooden ship, but Columbus says Pico's his friend, which raises more concern for his sanity. So, what, only he hears Pico? Is he Dr. Doolittle? Why isn't it established that he has some gift? Or maybe it's just Pico who can speak because he "used to be a bookworm"? In which case, why doesn't Columbus react when Pico starts talking to him the first time? Just because the movie is for kids doesn't give them an excuse for clumsy storytelling!

...Nor does it give them an excuse for clumsy animation. When Columbus starts talking to one of the sailors, there's a gag where he gets tangled up in the steering wheel. There's a close-up of Columbus on the wheel, where the floor of the ship and the ship in the background aren't there. They just forgot to animate it. That's pretty bad.

So, at night everyone is asleep and we see into their dreams. Columbus dreams of exploration on a ship that looks like the earring, on a sea that looks like his blanket. He reaches down and pulls a telescope out... from his groin. And extends it, while still keeping the end at his crotch. Wow. I did not remember that. Anyway, he dreams of falling off the edge, which is really just him falling out of bed. Meanwhile, Pico dreams a loveydovey dream about Marilyn.

The sailors continue to worry about falling off the edge and decide to mutiny. Pico warns Columbus, and he distracts them by getting out an accordion and playing music. He also sings a terrible song. We get a strange montage of various things Columbus sings about, which features the current characters in historical roles. The colors are all off, and there's some cheap image stretching and contracting gimmick that looks like something done in Windows Movie Maker. Columbus makes the mistake of singing about falling off the edge, which only makes things worse.

The next morning, the crew sights land... only it's not. It's a ghost ship with skeletons of sailors looking out in the exact positions of our sailors. The sailors grab Columbus and start to hang him. Pico tries to help, but he's ineffective. Fortunately, it turns out they really are near land, and the Swarm Lord attacks. The ship crashes on the island, destroying the house of a beaver, and sending Columbus flying out into the sand. The beaver rescues Pico from drowning, and, along with two rats and a seagull, decides to help Pico defeat the Swarm Lord. They pass Columbus, who seems to have no problems with the menagerie of animals moving intelligently. Meanwhile, Columbus sees Marilyn's golden light at the top of an Aztec temple, and goes there himself to get the gold.

Now, the Aztec Empire was in southern Mexico, over a thousand miles southwest of the Bahamas. We also get a glimpse of the natives, who look like generic Native Americans from North America and not Aztecs. Beavers didn't live there either. You know, if you're going to make a movie about going to a foreign continent, learn something about the geography of said continent!

So, anyway, Columbus and the animals converge on the temple. In the center, there's a huge tower of honeycomb, and the top is a gold statue with Marilyn inside it. The Swarm Lord dances around the top, taunting Marilyn. Because there's a honeycomb, one might think the Swarm Lord is a swarm of bees. It's not. Where are the bees? They don't explain it.

Columbus starts climbing the tower on the outside, Pico climbs the tower on the inside through eating his way up, and the beaver and the rats start gnawing on the bottom to knock it down. The Swarm Lord starts harassing Columbus, who tries to fight it by reaching inside the Swarm with cloth wrapped around his hand. The Swarm lights it on fire. The Swarm Lord literally starts flaming and looks like a dragon. Cool, I guess.

At one point, Columbus pulls his hand out of the Swarm and becomes alarmed because it looks like it took off the tips of his fingers. But no, he only had his fingers pulled down so only the knuckles were showing. Only, he had his hand facing him the whole time. That's the equivalent of doing the I've Got Your Nose game and scaring yourself. Pretty pathetic.

So, the animals at the bottom eat enough of the honeycomb that the tower becomes unstable. Only, instead of showing the tower wobbling, it stays perfectly firm and the camera shakes up and down. The beaver and rats run, the seagull rescues Pico, and Columbus rides the golden statue down to the bottom, where he squishes the Swarm. Marilyn seems like she's dead, but Pico holds her and she comes back to life.

They all start back toward the ship with the statue, but the natives show up. The chief starts yelling at Columbus--in English--for taking their land but stops when he sees that Columbus squished the Swarm and asks how they could repay him. Wait, he took their land? He just got there! Columbus asks if he could take the statue. One native whispers to another that it's only gold-plated. The chief 'generously' agrees. So, Columbus and co. start sailing back to Spain.

Columbus says to Pico that they've proved the world is round... only, they haven't. They've proved that there's an island out past where people thought there was the edge. It's not even that he thinks he went to China like the historical Columbus, as he says they found a new world. He then imagines that some day in the future there will be a big city on the island, and we see the future come as skyscrapers start appearing, including the World Trade Center, and the Statue of Liberty pops up as the movie comes to a close. So... that was New York? That's over a thousand miles north of the Bahamas! There certainly wasn't an Aztec temple there!

Magic Voyage is kinda racist. The real Columbus was a murdering, raping conqueror, and making him into a lighthearted cartoon character plays into the cultural trend of whitewashing history. And even though this Columbus didn't actually take the natives' land, if he had, they'd forgive him should he destroy a Satanic insect swarm. The real Columbus didn't actually return to Spain having established a good relationship with the locals, like it's made out to be in Magic Voyage.

As for the female characters, there's nothing really good there. Marilyn's as passive as they come. The queen has power, but she doesn't seem to deserve it. She's just a monarch. She got the power by birthright. She doesn't seem to be any better at ruling than her husband.

This movie is weird, badly made, and just insensitive. Granted, I was really young when I liked it, so maybe it's just best for really young kids. If I'd ever show it to a kid, though, I'd want to give some commentary about how Columbus really wasn't a good guy, and everyone knew the world was round... Better yet, let's just forget Magic Voyage and stick to better kids' movies like Ponyo.

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