English title: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom
Much like the previous two films in the Naruto series, this one sets up a promising premise, adds very nice animation and well-integrated CG to what is already one of Naruto’s greatest strengths - character design – and then soon grinds down into very formulaic, cheesy silliness. The spoilt-younger-kid-gets-taught-valuable-life-lessons-by-the-protagonist basis so popular in Naruto and One Piece is not a bad template, but it needs a strong overall plot to compliment it.
Team 7 (with Rock Lee replacing Sasuke) are on a mission to escort a fat prince reminiscent of Kurata from Hikaru no Go back to his hometown – though not before stopping to buy an entire circus. The prince’s son Hikaru is also in the retinue, his design (as well as that of a very senbon-zakura-like attack later) lifted more or less directly from Bleach – he could easily be a younger Quincy. Naruto clashes with the boy, of course, until our young protagonist finally loses his tempter, hits the boy and gives him a lecture – actually getting surprisingly abusive. Young Hikaru is stung enough that he is moved to prove his mettle during a storm – he goes to rescue his favourite animals. Of course, most people would consider an 8-year-old (or thereabouts) going out onto the deck of a boat is listing so badly that he could be thrown overboard at any moment and letting tigers out of cages incredibly stupid, but it wins the respect of Naruto and co. Far worse, it also makes Chamu the Siberian Tiger (in a world with no Siberia – or indeed Amur) and Kiki the monkey become friendly and seemingly fluent in human speech. The prince gets home to find there has been a coup, so of course lots of one-on-one ninja battles ensue, accompanied by long speeches and kids proving themselves both brave and capable in the usual manner.
Not as good as either of the last movies, thanks to the added cringe-factor of circuses and animals, but with some nice scenes early on and some great bits of animation, it was worth seeing, and certainly much better than the filler in the series. You didn’t really need any knowledge of the Naruto universe to understand what was going on, so it stood alone well. It just seems a shame that it’s been a while since I’ve expected anything Naruto-related to do anything but play it very safe, in terms of plot, obvious distinction between good guys and bad guys and acceptable modes of minor-character deaths.
There’s something interesting, though, about how compelling it is for young fans of the show to see their hero, though his self-cloning techniques, get killed again and again and again before he finally prevails…
(expanded from impressions, 3.5.07)