Title: Birthday Wonderland
Director: Keiichi Hara
Starring: Mayu Matsuoka, Anne Watanabe, Kumiko Aso
Runtime: 1hr 56min
What It Is: The day before her birthday, young teen Akane (Matsuoka) is swept away by magician Hippocrates and his tiny, pixie-like sidekick Pipo upon finding her hand fits into a mysterious old rock in her adventurous Aunt Chii’s (Watanabe) strange gift shop. The four travel through Wonderland, a colorful world put in danger by an approaching mysterious villain.
What We Think: It’s exactly what it sounds, an unfortunately average storyline: the “chosen one” has to save this place somehow because prophecy, and add random fantastical elements and characters for the sake of a little bit of whimsy. Yet another addition to animated films obviously hitching on the coattails of Alice in Wonderland / Wizard of Oz, the story remains relatively forgettable, along with the score and, as much as it is well animated, its pleasing visuals are so not due to the spectacle but more so technical skill. Looking through the director’s previous works, I found they also had done another anime titled Miss Hokusai, which also had its problems in the story department but was at least a little more interesting. This is all a bit cheesy and silly story where the lead characters act like they’re on vacation, Akane herself often doesn’t even do much; her choices are made for her. I’ve definitely seen plenty of other films that have delivered all these fantasy elements with more originality; chances are you have too.
Our Grade: C-, I can see that there’s an audience for this movie: particularly a younger audience. Kids who haven’t seen this sort of thing done as much are far more likely to enjoy this. The simple storytelling and visuals could very much entertain younger viewers—personally, I found myself rather bored and at times annoyed by this cutesy childish romp. Shoutout to Fantasia Fest for letting us check this one out!