We are well aware that plenty of so-called "children's movies" are actually nightmares wrapped in candy. But no movie can compete on a sheer terror scale with the animated movies of Unico — specifically Unico In the Island of Magic, which is the most horrifying film ever created for children.
Earlier this week, the AV Club zoomed in on The Last Unicorn, calling the cartoon "nightmare fuel to a generation of kids." And while I will concur that The Last Unicorn is indeed very troubling, it doesn't even come close to the fucked-up horror that is Unico in the Island of Magic. A movie so deeply disturbing that the first time I saw it, I threw up on my babysitter's comforter. Let me show you why.
Unico the actual character was created by legendary manga artist Osamu Tezuka. The being itself is basically what a unicorn would look like if it was also a kitten. Instead of trotting, Unico leaps and bounds across the screen like he's chasing an imaginary ball of string. It's important to know this, because a lot of really terrible shit is about to happen to a baby animal with pink hair. Clearly the creators intentionally crafted the cutest animal imaginable so that every time someone kicks, hits, or tries to kill Unico kids learn the valuable lesson that the world is garbage.
And this movie comes out swinging. In the opening scene, Unico is abandoned by her caretaker, the West Wind. But before evaporating into nothingness the Wind twists the knife for our tiny hero explaining:
"Poor, innocent creature. As the West Wind, the Gods have ordered me to abandon you on the hill of oblivion. But I cannot do it. Instead I will leave you here, Unico, and pray that the Gods don't find you. Once again, you are all alone. You will remember nothing of what has happened. Goodbye, Unico."
Holy shit. Not only does the West Wind just throw Unico into a random forest, but she makes sure to tell the baby unicorn that she is both alone and basically being hunted by "the gods." Everyone wants you dead Unico, but don't worry you're not going to remember any of this anyway, the West Wind was just telling you this so she could marvel at her own gesture of kindness before abandoning you in this nightmare forest. And that's just the start of this movie!
The Wind disappears, presumably mind-wiping our hero. And Unico just starts screaming. Understandable. This is five minutes into the movie.
But don't worry soon enough, Unico meets Melvin the Magnificat, who immediately starts punching the unicorn in the face.
The cat creature Melvin threatens to kill Unico (fun!), so Unico bolts. Cut to the unicorn walking up to random woodland creatures and stating, "Hi. I'm Unico, who are you?" No one engages. Out of nowhere, it starts raining in the forest and Unico begins to cry, again. He wails, "Nobody seems to like me in this forest!" The animators then decide to zoom in on a crying, soaked Unico not once, but three times. This is anguish porn at the highest level.
And here's when things start to get dark.
After crying for three zoom-ins, Unico hears a flute. The flute, it turns out, is coming from a sorcerer's apprentice who has a fantastic cape and even better bangs. His name is Toby and his job is to lure all the animals of the forest close to his person, so he can zap them into some sort of lifeless cutout thing. WHAT? Yes, Toby is murdering all the forest creatures with magic!
But why? Why is Toby mindlessly turning all the forest animals into horrible looking paper dolls? Because that's what THE MOST TERRIFYING THING EVER CREATED wants him to do. Enter Lord Kuruku.
This terrifying floating thing Lord Kuruku, who isn't a person (more on that later) but an omnipotent floating orb that is constantly shrieking. If you've ever experienced a fever dream where you wake up from a nightmare covered in sweat feeling like someone has hollowed out your insides with an ice cream scoop, that's what it feels like whenever Lord Kuruku is on screen.
Things You Should Know About Lord Kuruku:
- He can fly.
- He has arms? I think? But mostly he exists in a red ball shape, and I'm not sure if he has legs.
- He has seemingly unlimited power.
- Kuruku has eyeballs that can move from on top of his head to the bottom of his head depending on his mood swings.
- He can turn into a rainbow, or really any shape at all.
- He can move through walls. You're never safe.
- His voice sounds like a screaming grandmother fighting for her life against Jim Henson's deathMuppet.
- He wants to kill all life on the planet.
- It physically hurts to listen to his voice with earbuds.
Lord Kuruku is, without a doubt, the most horrifying animated creation to ever exist. The most bewildering part to this character? Adult humans came up with this idea. A real live adult thought, "Kids are going to love this." And then a bunch of their colleagues agreed this thought. "What if we made his voice sounds like two cats fighting in a bag!" "Let's give his face no discernible shape" "I showed this sketch to my nephew last night and he threw up in his hand, I think we've got a winner people!"
Kids aren't going to love hating Lord Kuruku. Kids are going to see Lord Kuruku, piss on the carpet, and cover it up with an oddly placed playhouse.
Moving on. Within moments, you realize that Kuruku is the one pulling all the strings in this villain outfit. And what does he want? PEOPLE. He wants all the people and every living creature to be turned into a living puppet. That's right, you read that correctly, a living puppet. Those weird figures that Toby was zapping the animals into are actually living dolls. He doesn't want them to die, not Kuruku. He wants all humans and creatures and things to be imprisoned forever as puppets, unable to speak, unable to talk, but able to feel because this movie goes to A LOT of trouble to remind the audience that these creations are "living."
Flash forward to the aforementioned town, where Unico is taken in by a kindly girl named Cheri. No surprise here, Cheri is actually Toby's little sister. All this plotting just leads up to putting Toby and Cheri in the same building just so they can all helplessly watch as Kuruku turns their parents into puppets. BEHOLD, the most fucked up scene in a kids movie, ever.
But wait, it gets worse.
Jaded from watching the death of his parents, Toby transforms the rest of the town into human puppet corpses. After he's finished with that, Toby plays his flute and the lifeless, horrifying, once-human puppets get up and march. Toby and Cheri's parents march right through their door, trampling their daughter, Cheri. She pleads with her (dead?) parents to stop. Imagine storyboarding that moment while making this movie. "Main character watches her parents die. Moments later their, reanimated puppet corpses trample over her body." Nailed it. Nothing says entertainment like watching the lifeless remains of the townsfolk tromp along to a flute.
But wait, it gets even worse.
Why would Lord Kuruku want a bunch of puppets? Because his entire castle on "Nightmare Island" is MADE OUT OF LIVING PUPPET PEOPLE.
THE WALLS ARE PEOPLE:
THE STAIRS ARE PEOPLE:
EVERYTHING IS PEOPLE:
Everything is living puppet people. So remember that in the big finale when a bunch of walls are knocked down — just death, death, death, and more crumbling death.
Oh, and the castle is also guarded by a giant dragon puppet (above) that is actually awesome until you realize that his roar sounds like an full grown adult screaming "HOOONK HAAAAAAAH."
After this, things start to get really convoluted. In order to save his sister's life, Toby turns both Cheri and Unico... into toys.
Here is Toby putting his toy sister and toy Unico into the wall made of living puppet flesh. Moments later, Lord Kuruku comes in to play with these dolls. The villain screams and cackles as he makes the toys dance for him. Later on Cheri will confess that she remembers every moment of dancing for this screeching ball of madness. It's a delight.
Eventually, the two heroes are turned back into a human and a cat unicorn and together, Cheri and Unico start on a journey to find out how they can defeat Lord Kuruku. They travel to the "end of the Earth," which is really just a giant trash heap on a beach. The beach is full of things "no one wanted." Somehow, all these trash things have developed the ability to think and feel and freak out that there's a human here. The big takeaway lesson here must be don't throw away anything, ever. Your chair has feelings. No, really — a chair yelled.
Inside this pile of trash, a gigantic rocking horse (who has also become sentient some how) reveals the real story behind Lord Kuruku. Turns out the villain is actually a puppet, and his owners were unspeakably cruel to him. The puppet washed up at the end of the earth and eventually became sentient and decided to kill all the humans. Here is the moment Lord Kuruku the puppet, came to life. Remember, this is a kids movie.
And now he's Kuruku. The horse also tells them that love will stop Kuruku. Neither Cheri nor Unico knows what that means, so basically they went to the end of the Earth for nothing. Either way, it's time for the climax and they all go back for a big showdown.
Cheri is turned into a puppet. Toby is turned into a puppet. Everyone is turned into the puppet except for Unico, who grows a pair of wings and runs Kuruku through with his horn. Kuruku screams and Unico tells him that "he can have friends if he wants to." This realization that Kuruku "needs a friend" melts his heart. Kuruku turns back into a puppet and NO ONE BURNS HIM IMMEDIATELY. The puppets all go back to being people, except for the ones who were crumpled in the massive finale fight.
So it's a fairly happy ending for everyone, except Unico. Unfortunately for the main character the West Wind returns and says, "It's time for you to leave this place. The gods will soon discover what you did here." Unico asks why, and the West Wind retorts, "Because that is your fate Unico." HA! The West Wind doesn't even let Unico say goodbye to Cherri, seriously Unico asks and his wish is declined. Sucks to be Unico.
That's it, the end. Most horrific movie ever.