"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"
-Peter Venkman (aka Bill Murray from GHOSTBUSTERS)
And it IS fitting that we use a quote from GHOSTBUSTERS as it both describes the basic storyline of Naruto: Road to Ninja and matches the weekend where the anime will compete with the 1980's classic as it is re-released into American movie theaters.
So, how best to describe the ninth full length Naruto movie?
One key element that distinguishes this film from the others is that series creator, Masashi Kishimoto, not only personally conceived of the story but also designed all of the new characters. But what about the story?
It's pretty simple--Naruto Uzumaki ends up in an alternate dimension (called the GENJUTSU WORLD) where his two parents never died. There are twists and turns here as the world has significantly changed given that Naruto's father, the 4th Hogake, survived. Still, the world is still in danger due to the GENJUTSU being cast by the evil TOBI (now known as Obito Uchiha in both the manga/ anime) and there is a question mark about all of the series noticeable characters. We know who they they are in the REGULAR Naruto continuity but what are they like in this new version? Trust me--there is a joy in watching these alternate characters come to life.
Joy aside though this is a fairly standard plot contrivance that sits among other such standards as mistaken identity; evil twins and lost powers. While it's easy to fall upon that crutch and often feels like an empty affair hats must go off to the filmmakers for delivering a solid if mildly entertaining film that captures the core "feel" of the Naruto saga.
There are many issues here though that keep this film from rising to the ranks of a magnificent film. The chief conceit-- that Naruto's parents are still alive--never comes across quite as sad or as mythic as it should seem. I found this odd--as I would expect that sensation to exist among st any fans who have NOT seen the EXCELLENT anime adaptation (years in the making) of how Naruto came to be and what tragic circumstances claimed his parents. It stands as one of the most epic, beautiful and tragic moments in all of shonen manga/ anime geekdom and the anime captured it to perfection. To then see both Minato and Kushina alive in this story with what amounts to standard stereotypical loud mom/ quiet dad fare was disappointing and more so because I KNOW who these characters are. If I wasn't moved then what would new fans to Naruto think?
I also had a big problem with the idea that Tobi would interact with (and even skirmish with) Naruto and Sakura. Given what we know of him--to take such a powerful villain in the manga and reduce him to just a baddie of the week type character comes across as just lazy. Still, that he is not the main threat at the film's climax and the surprising behavior of the feared Akatsuki help to minimize Tobi's poor portrayal. And that climax, perhaps it's the reality of Naruto's popularity but as with DBZ---these movies totally rob the style of Naruto's fights. Given the absolutely EPIC nature of some of Naruto's best fights---that the movie battles end rather predictably (one guess as to what move Naruto will use) frankly sucks!
The positives here are however are DECENT and are the reason WHY the film is held in high regard. 1st of all, the animation quality is STRONG NOT EXCELLENT. I personally feel that NO NARUTO MOVIE has matched the first film, NARUTO THE MOVIE: NINJA CLASH: IN THE LAND OF SNOW. That is evident here as there are few quiet moments that seem like TV level animation while some other moments come across as spectacular spectacles. Furthermore, the story is brisk we are treated to several fun moments where we get to see these alternate versions of nearly every character from Konoha.
Kiba, Hinata and Shikimaru are given some of the most dramatic changes while Sasuke's revelation is quite fun if not brief. The standout moment (that got a literal "YES!" from me was when the bad-ass Akatsuki show up (the second time--the first appearance is super-lame and again betrays the manga's legacy) and the twist with Naruto's alternate version (MENMA) is pretty cool.
So, this is a GOOD EFFORT. I can't call it great as it seems to just get too lazy at times and not take the sort of chances that the original Naruto manga did at it's peak back during the Sasuke Retrieval arc. Why can't we get a genuine Naruto/ Hinata or Naruto/ Sakure moment. It's way past time these cheeseball Japanese manga tropes of not having male and female characters naturally act on their attraction (unless its' an ecchi which is the opposite of reality) go far away.
Should you rent it? YES! There are enough cool moments here that will bring a smile
Frederick L. Jones is the founder of MyFutprint.com and is the HOKAGE of all things kick-ass.