Diving deep into the realm of Japanese obscurity, we have a Sanrio animated feature titled Fairy Florence. Sanrio is the company that makes Hello Kitty franchise works and merchandise. Sanrio is also famous for the films Unico and Chirin no Suzu. This fame is partially because, for children's movies, Unico and Chirin no Suzu are surprisingly thematically dense and deal with mature topics in an often somber and cynical manner. Can I say the same for Fairy Florence? Sadly I cannot.
Fairy Florence seems to be Japan's answer to Fantasia. While I don't particularly enjoy Fantasia nor Fantasia 2000, I fully grasp the purpose of these
films as an expression of animators' influence taken from music and how that affects their works. Fairy Florence tries its' hardest to do something similar while adding in commentary on the creative process and the struggle to find inspiration.
Michael's story is one of a talented artist that cannot for the life of him find his place in the world. I think many artists can relate to Michael. He has a natural talent for music but is pushed by his superiors to take part in something he initially did not want any part of. He is forced to practice in a way he finds unconventional and because of this he does poorly and loses motivation. This lack of motivation leads to him seeking entertainment and happiness through outside sources. This scenario itself can be applied to anyone going through a creative struggle. The medium of music is not stringent here. Although not exact in scheme, Michael's story is relative to all artists.
This idea, to provide commentary on a young artist's struggle and to express the animators' own struggles while showing the influence of music on their works, is not a poor one by any means. The real issue here is the presentation and delivery of this idea...
Instead of taking the steady and thought provoking road Fairy Florence had initially tread down for the first twenty or so minutes, an intermittent hallucinogenic trip is what follows. From what i gather from the progression of the story, Michael has a nervous breakdown and relapses from his two months of sobriety to continually ingest ayahuasca for the next hour or so. Michael's hormones dictated his psychoactive romp will be filled with courtship of his new crush whom he just interacted with before his early life crisis. He plays out his wish fulfillment fantasies where the girl of his dreams falls for him and he can play his music the way he likes and it somehow has an impact on the world. His trip occasionally turns bad and he has to fight off marvin the martian's imp cousin and that big baddy from fern gully...
You can see why this doesn't sit right with me by now i hope. All the explanation in the world cannot save this symbolism and allegory. It no longer has importance because it is presented in a way that continually slaps you in the face. Michael trying to deflower his flower waifu holds no real significance. This plot device is there for convenience's sake so that romance can be had. She is shown as only a catalyst and then a distraction so she cannot be thought of as motivation for Michael nor true influence. With a stretch, the fight scenes could be thought of as Michael overcoming his inner demons and breaking out of his shell as a confident individual, but there is no real support within the movie.. it just would have made sense to direct these scenes in that way from a logical standpoint.
Fairy Florence, like MANY movies from the 80s is a mixed bag of wasted-potential-flavored-nuts. The setup for a dramatic slice of life about a boy and his struggles is destroyed by an attempt at a disney ripoff. Sadly the staff behind this had no idea how to do Disney formula nor what aspects make Disney so charming for most viewers.
English-speaking members of MAL might recall this feature movie as "Journey Through Fairyland." The movie feature by Sanrio (the makers of Unico and Ringing Bell) was their last animated movie until just a few years ago. It tells the story of a faltering music student (Michael) who spends more time with the flowers in the greenhouse than with the orchestra. After being kicked-out, a fairy named Florence comes out of one of the flowers and takes him to visit fairyland. There he finds both love and his muse.
The story is a bit simplistic, and is utterly
predictable to anyone that has seen Fern Gully (and upon critical examination, I now realize where they got their inspiration. bonus points for inspiring an American movie). Being a children's movie--if a bit sophisticated for the very young--this is not very surprising. I would actually have scored the movie higher in this regard if it wasn't painfully anti-climactic. Apparently children weren't meant to notice this needless drawing-out of the film; and in retrospect I in fact did not notice as a child.
The way I see it, the art in most portions of the movie is excellent. Obviously they ripped several pages right out of Disney's Fantasia, but there are enough added visuals of their own to overcome the similarities. For once I have to actually bemoan the fact that the VHS version is the only version around for America--thus much of the visuals are muted by the degraded quality of the tape over time. The art is amazingly trippy by the time they get to Fairyland, and we are even greeted by an all-too-familiar face as a cameo (which I will save as a bonus for those of you that watch it). The viewer is bombarded with music-related visuals and swarsm of fairies--to say nothing of the gigantic monster near the end.
Yet again we must come to grips with the Fantasia playbook. With one exception; the movie soundtrack consists of classical music. This is quite likely by design, as the feel of the movie is that of getting kids to like the genre. The songs are well-chosen, at least. They settle quite nicely with the animation and even the corny introduction song (the only piece of discernibly original music in the movie) is not too difficult to sit through.
The English dub is the only viable copy around, so there's not much I can compare it to. The script isn't very elaborate, and the voice actors perform their lines on about par with other VHS-release animated movies of the time.
There are a grand total of five characters with lines/purpose of any note. All of them seem to be standard stock characters, from the tragic heroine Florence to the troublemaker Treble. Shallow characters are a notorious occurrence in children's movies, and this one is no exception. The movie was not designed with character development in mind, and there's really no other way to put it.
My recent rewatching of Florence reminded me that (quite often) childhood movies are better in our memory than in actuality. Florence is actually a rather charming piece, and despite its flaws I enjoyed the viewing. It really is a kid's movie though, and thus I cannot easily recommend it to the average MAL user unless you are a connoisseur, looking for a classical music anime, or have a younger (12 or under) associate to watch with you.
On the bright side, I would consider Flroence to be a very nice alternative to Disney's Fantasia. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie. However, Florence provides both a single plot and a continual stream of actual animation. Really, happen to know from experience that the introductions by Deems Taylor were not enthrawling for younger audiences. To put it another way, Florence is the very young's Fantasia.
I don't expect anyone to seek this movie out; espeacily given that the VHS-only release continues to see price-gouging on ebay. However, if you do happen to get the oppertunity to view or own Yousei Florence, I encourage you to keep it as an animated treasure. At the very least, you can pass it off on your kids who will, I think, enjoy it more than we adult otaku ever could.
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Yousei Florence or The Journey to Fairyland is an enchanting and colourful experience. It is, or I believe it to be, an abstract depiction of Michael's thought process at a cross road during his life.
Michael, the main protagonist, is a kind-hearted character who enjoys gardening but has passion for music too. This film feels like a slow discovery of his forgotten feelings for music and a compassionate departure from horticulture. The premise is interesting and is brought to life in a fantasy setting with the use of colour and music to give off a fairy tale vibe.
I particularly liked that mostly everything was referring
to Michael's decision, it felt like everything had a purpose. From the character designs to the way they were animated. For example, the MokiMoki were all liquid-like substances which represents how lazy musicians go with the flow due to properties of liquid. Although the visual connotations were intriguing, I was entranced by the wonderful tunes that blended in with each scene and mood.
However, the editing was unnatural due to some scene transitions. The Fairyland section was nice but the real world setting appeared to be of minimal interest: characters shown for no reason, the area felt too quiet (perhaps due to fairy-like aspect of Michael's life) and some peculiar lifestyles (living in a greenhouse). Also, the story played out in a typical fashion albeit tailored for kids.
Despite some peculiar references to Hello Kitty among others, though I don't know why, it was a beautiful experience for a 1.5hr film. It felt like a dream due to the contrasting of the two worlds and it was worth a watch. If not for the story and themes at least watch it for the cohesion between music and animation.