Robot Carnival is a 1987 anime anthology film in which every segment features a robot central to each short’s plot in some way. A fine collection of short films featuring narrative and visual experimentations (or both), my personal favorite is “Starlight Angel,” (link to video) a nine minute Disney-esque tale of magic and memories. Full spoilers of the short follow.
“Star Light Angel” centers around two friends enjoying each others company and forgetting some of life’s troubles at an amusement park that strongly resembles Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland, though this is never stated,but instead called Robot Wanderland. The short contains no dialogue and features an unapologetically sentimental score by frequent Studio Ghibli film composer, Jo Hisaishi. The protagonist is a pensive brunette girl (who for the sake of making this piece less confusing, will be referred to as Jane), and her friend is a blonde girl who is the more extroverted of the pair (who will be referred to as Amy).
What’s so clever is that the theme park featured in “Starlight Angel” is Walt Disney’s perfected vision of Tomorrowland: it features functioning android performers, a ride in which a mechanical hand lifts guests from a ride’s queue into its vehicle, and even a sentient animatronic attraction attendant. The film’s atmosphere captures the feelings of innocence, nostalgia, and wonder associated with Magic Kingdom (or theme parks in general) through both fantasy and highly-detailed realism. Ever wonder what riding Space Mountain would look like if life were an animated film? “Starlight Angel” has the answer for you.
Despite all the joy and sentimentality, this short is fundamentally about facing reality in an artificial paradise, and ultimately, losing oneself in that paradise. Disney World is the self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth,” so what happens when real life happens to park visitors?
From the beginning of the short, it is clear that something is bothering Jane. She seems distant and wistful, but still content to be experiencing all the exuberant happiness surrounding her and her friend. In an attempt to cheer her up, Amy excitedly tells Jane that she met a guy and that he was now in the park. Happy for her friend, they gleefully run through the park to meet him.
While on the move, Jane bumps into an android entertainer. Due to the impact, her star-shaped locket necklace falls off. He tries to tell her, but the two girls are quickly gone.
After Amy finds her mystery guy, she rushes over to hug him. To Jane’s horror, we find out through a rather abstract flashback that she once loved him and that he gave Jane the star locket. Suddenly, a wave of emotions shatter Jane’s already ailing Magic Kingdom paradise, and she runs off in tears. It is not clear if Amy was aware of Jane’s past with the guy, but based on Amy’s surprised look, that is probably not the case.
Meanwhile, the android frantically tries to locate Jane, pushing through a crowd of people watching a robot-centric version of Disney’s Electrical Light Parade, while she, also pushing through the crowd, tries to find meaning in her tumultuous emotions. Unsure of where to run, she gets on an attraction with no wait time (the parade crowds seriously cut down on queue lengths, just another incredibly detailed observation depicted in this short).
The attraction’s thrill and pure bliss grant Jane temporary solace from her emotions. She pictures herself flying through the air over the park, and is soon joined by her android suitor.
However, the moment the android hands Jane her locket, her world of Disney-induced magic completely falls apart. Suddenly, a giant, menacing robot attacks her and the android. This could be seen as Jane’s fantasy collapsing into a nightmare as the locket triggers her heartbroken feelings and jealousy. After a robot fight (ironically, the ride’s name is Robot Entertainment), the android saves Jane with the help of her starlight imagination powers. In the process, he loses his helmet to reveal that he is not an android, but in fact, a handsome brunette boy.
Afterwards, near the park’s closing time, Jane, looking refreshed and cheerful, meets up with Amy. Suddenly, Jane spots the brunette boy in the parking lot, and she runs to him and hugs him, mimicking the earlier scene in which Amy hugs her boyfriend in front of Jane. The final shot of the short film shows a shooting star flying over the horizon of Robot Wanderland.
Clearly, some things in “Starlight Angel” don’t seem to add up upon first viewing. One interpretation is that everything involving the android/brunette boy that happens after Jane gets on the Robot Entertainment attraction is purely in her mind. In the parking lot scene, before Jane goes and hugs the brunette boy, she points him out to Amy. However, instead of going over to meet him as Jane does, Amy stands there, perplexed, as if she doesn’t initially see him. The shooting star can signify that yes, Disney Magic did happen, possibly only in Jane’s head, but regardless, the experience helped her forget her heartbreak, but for how long is unknown.
“Starlight Angel” is a beautifully animated and written (despite not having any words) short film that captures the innocence, turmoil, and most of all, magic of youth.