Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 1st 2008
Naruto - Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom
Being a ninja means earning your keep by carrying out missions for your village, even if it means playing babysitter to a gluttonous prince and his spoilt son. The biggest obstacles in the way of Naruto, Sakura, Rock Lee, and Kakashi's mission are their poor diet (ninja cannot live on instant noodles alone) and the even poorer attitude of Prince Michiru's son Hikaru. That changes when they reach Michiru's homeland. A scheming minister has usurped the king's throne in their absence, and his ninja underlings have orders to capture and execute the rightful heir. As Michiru runs (or more accurately, waddles) for his life, it's up to Naruto and friends to save his gelatinous butt, and teach Hikaru a thing or two about true friendship in the process.
The Naruto movies are coming out like Irish twins. If only that meant they also came with Irish whiskey. Being hammered would at least give you an excuse for why you can't recall anything.
But no such luck. Instead of waving the question aside with a simple “sorry I was drunk,” one is forced to point with tedious predictability to the usual suspects. To implicate the pressures of maintaining series continuity in the creation of a plot that is ultimately inconsequential and in the unimaginative recycling of each character's signature jutsu. To blame the essential lack of involvement on the mechanical execution and nearly scientific predictability of every plot point: Will some nefarious scheme interfere with Naruto's mission? Yep. Will it involve powerful, ruthless ninja? Most definitely. Will bratty Hikaru warm to Naruto's unbounded enthusiasm? But of course. Will Hikaru's skill with a toy bow come in handy at some opportune, life-changing moment? You betcha. And will it all—every life lesson, teary-eyed realization, and “stunning” action turnaround—be driven home with a musical sledgehammer? Wish all you want, the answer is still yes.
The occasional mild but pleasant surprise does save a handful of scenes from vanishing in a puff of apathy along with the rest of the film. The transformation of the blubbery, blithely arrogant Michiru into a political firebrand is unusual (adults rarely seem to change in series aimed at kids), and it hinges on an awakening that is communicated purely visually, without recourse to internal monologues or self-important rhetoric. It also affords the film the chance to end its final battle with the memorable image of an obese noble hurling a partially fossilized ninja at his primary foe.
Unfortunately, the film's other visuals are fare poorly in comparison. Unlike The Legend of the Stone of Gelel, the backgrounds here are unremarkable, and the character designs are simplified past what is allowed even in the television series. The new characters are bland caricatures, and the Crescent Moon Kingdom is too familiar to add any exoticism. Counterbalancing that is a flexible attitude towards detail levels and quality control that allows for highly active, surprisingly effective action sequences on what is obviously a limited theatrical budget. Characters warp and bend as they clash at inhuman speeds, smearing perspective as they participate in the kind of cartoon brutality that convinces less critical fans of the series' adult intent.
Predictably, the English veterans of the Naruto franchise do exemplary work here, and as always the ADR script is a fine balance of fidelity, ease of flow, and free-wheeling fun (the circus ringmaster is a kick). Less predictably, English Hikaru is a decided improvement on the Japanese, and nearly every one of the new parts is expertly played, with special mention going to the urbane head of the evil ninjas.
As with Viz's other 2-disc Shonen Jump movie releases, the bulk of the extras deal with the production of the English adaptation. The audio commentary (which for once actually comments of the film) features the English version's main staff discussing their impressions of the film, while two of the video extras deal with the English cast's thoughts about working on the movie and the film's unusual (for English) use of group recording sessions. There is an interview the film's Japanese producers, but it's decidedly dull. There's also a lengthy trivia game that proves more fun than the film itself (though it is pretty easy—I managed to pull “Chunin” rank while guessing on most of the questions).
For as long as Rock Lee plows through enemies, Sakura punches holes in walls, and Naruto does his berserker thing, the film is a diverting enough scrap of fluff a la the television series' filler episodes. When the kids bond and learn for the umpteenth time the importance of friendship, the entertainment dividends decrease drastically, but so long as one's tolerance for the overt moralizing that plagues children's entertainment is high, then even that won't hurt much. Which is exactly what makes the film so bad. It inspires neither pain nor pleasure—for all the impression it makes, you may as well have spent the hour staring at a blank wall.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Won't actually kill you.
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