The Last: Naruto the Movie is a lush ninja fairy tale, an almost perfect incarnation of the Naruto story that's enraptured so many fans from around the globe for well over a decade. There were almost two and a half years between this movie and the previous Naruto film (instead of the usual one year), and the extra time the production staff allowed themselves is apparent in every gorgeous frame.
A lot of your enjoyment of the film will depend on your feelings (if you have any) on Naruto's love life. Romance has never been an important element in Naruto, but it's precisely because it got so little focus that the manga's epilogue was difficult to entirely swallow. The Last: Naruto the Movie, set two years after the end of the series' main storyline, effectively fills in the gap and explains how the Naruto we know who adored Sakura for most of the series becomes the Naruto who's happily married to Hinata with two children.
Much of the film is romantic, and sometimes it relies too heavily on romantic tropes. (Kishimoto himself takes credit for the central role a hand-knit scarf plays, even despite the plethora of anime and manga that make use of the device.) However, it all works. It may be difficult for action-lovers to see oblivious Naruto as a romantic hero for so much of the film—even Naruto himself is dumbfounded at times—but there's enough action to balance it out. The movie powerfully conveys airheaded Naruto finally understanding his own feelings and the romantic attachment of the girl who's loved him all along. An embarrassed flinch at the brush of his hand. A sparkle in his eye as he watches her gaze at the dusky sky. The tension between the two is palpable, and adorably awkward, and they never stray from the painfully shy yet quietly powerful woman and the naïve but caring and protective man we've known them to be.
The backdrop of this love is something fit for the dusty pages of a tome from the Brothers Grimm. Against the backdrop of a mixture of medieval European décor and that signature Naruto style (medieval Asian with a dash of modern technology), Hinata plays the role of a princess swept away by a handsome villain to his castle to be his bride à la Beauty and the Beast. Somehow all of these styles mesh seamlessly into an elegant castle on the moon that houses a Byronic-type villain who's a wisp of a man, simultaneously confident and ignorant of how the woman he desires could not easily love him. Naruto is the prince out to rescue his true love, but he does it ninja-style, with Sakura, Sai and Shikamaru providing the perfect commentary along the way.
If the film leaves anything to be desired, it's the overarching plot and the villain's motivations. There's a long-winded explanation, but basically, the villain wants to destroy the world because he feels that ninja have abused their power. It's such a cliche rationale, it's not only in more films, books, movies and games than you can shake a stick at, it's even the motivation for Madara in the main series, more or less. (He'd prefer to put everyone into an eternal illusion, but the gist is the same.) Not only that, it's not entirely clear why he desires Hinata so desperately. It may have something to do with the fact that he needs byakugan eyes to activate his world-destroying statue, but why he isn't satisfied with taking Hanabi's eyeballs and has to instead control and marry Hinata is left unarticulated.
Along with a tired villainous plot, the film fails to properly convey the real sense of danger these characters should be feeling until almost the last third of the film. The Kage are aware right from the start that the moon is going to fall to pieces and destroy the world, but Hanabi's kidnapping seems more pressing to the audience, and Naruto has his love life to sort out. Yes, Shikamaru keeps an eye on the advance of the moon as everything else unravels, but it never feels like the ticking time bomb it's supposed to be until the very end.
Sakura, Sai and Shikamaru may seem like a random assortment of secondary characters to include in the rescue mission (other than Sai and Sakura comprising the rest of Team 7), but it actually works marvelously. Sai's ink birds take the characters to the skies and Sakura's boundless strength leads her to take on countless enemies at once. When the story is more character-driven, Sakura is there to tell her “brother” Naruto what an oblivious idiot he is. Sai's passive-aggressiveness-with-a-smile routine, sorely missed in recent years on the show, brings just the right amount of levity. Shikamaru has all the bright ideas and can still manage to complain about everything being a bother.
No one's action sequences even come close to the spectacles that are Naruto's battle scenes, unless perhaps you count Kurama's. Naruto's never been more powerful, and the fluidity of his limbs as he twists and turns and slices through marionettes from the moon makes it clear why he's the true star of the series. Hinata is regretfully relegated to the damsel in distress role for a fraction of the film, but she willingly assumes the role to save those she loves and manages, in her own quiet way, to search for solutions. She also gets a few good action scenes in when she and Naruto decide to fight side by side.
Other important characters pop up for cameos here and there, and even fan favorite character Kakashi doesn't see much action thanks to his new role as Hokage. Still, because the focus is on a handful of characters, the film never feels overloaded, and the climax of the character-driven romance is more impactful.
The Last: Naruto the Movie has art and animation that's heads and tails above even the most artfully animated episode of the TV series, although that's par for the course with Naruto's big screen outings. Individual backdrops, particularly those of the moon castle, could be right at home in a Miyazaki film. Effects like flower petals and falling snow add depth to scenes that already pack an emotional punch. The stylish black and white opening looks like a moving storybook.
The score, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The film opens with “Greensleeves,” of all things, perhaps because it's in the public domain and conveys the medieval European tone much of the film relies on. However, it plays over the storybook prologue, which is a pastiche of the legend behind the world of Naruto as well as a brief recap of the bulk of the Naruto storyline—none of which has a touch of Europe to it—so it feels out of place. The rest of the music is more in tune with the rousing classic-Japanese-theater style that pervades the TV series, but it fades into the background more often than not.
Despite the (awkward) title, the movie is not actually the final film in the franchise, but it's the last of an era and a fitting capstone for the series and its fandom.
The English voice-work is on par with the quality of the dub of the TV series. For the most part, the voices are well-suited to the characters, although I still think Maile Flanagan's Naruto is brasher, louder, and more gravely than Junko Takeuchi's. Dub Naruto's more hyperactive tone makes some of the quieter, more romantic scenes less poignant than they otherwise could be. Stephanie Sheh is perfect as Hinata, simultaneously conveying the character's shyness, anxiety and determination. Robbie Daymond as Toneri nails the chilling, minimalistic qualities of the film's mostly unremarkable villain. For viewers who aren't proficient in spoken Japanese, the antagonist's Byronic side comes across a little more clearly in English during those few moments when Toneri loses his cool. As far as the secondary players go, most are sufficient, but Robbie Rist's high-pitched portrayal of the Akimichi clan's portly successor sounds odd coming from a now 19-year-old Choji. Still, given the character's limited role in the film, this isn't a huge issue.
Even if you've seen The Last on the big screen, this release's high definition 1080p picture quality makes it worth adding to your collection. The Blu-ray is packaged attractively, with the movie's poster on the outside and with different artwork on the disc case under the cardboard sleeve. The “limited edition booklet” is only a few pages, but the color art on the cover of the Hidden Leaf boys teasing Naruto and the girls teasing Hinata (presumably over the new romance) is a treat. So is the two-page epilogue manga drawn by Masahi Kishimoto in which Naruto takes Hinata out for a traditional date in spite of his dwindling finances. (Naruto consulting Sai's books on human interaction in preparation for the date made me laugh out loud.)
As has become customary, the Blu-ray is packaged with the DVD version of the film. On-disc extras include Japanese commercials, trailers, and promotional videos, as well as an art gallery that's exclusive to the Blu-ray. The gallery consists of model sheets for the young adult versions of the characters featured in the film, assorted promotional images, and a few posters. The videos give Western viewers a look at how Japanese trailers differ from the ones we've grown accustomed to in North America. (There's a lot more text on the screen, and narrator voiceovers are still commonplace.) However, there's little difference from one video to the next. Plus, for some reason, subtitles are missing on the “commercial” videos, even though the “trailers” and “promotional videos” are subtitled. These extras aren't worth the purchase, but the crisp picture and the overall quality of the film itself certainly are.