Category Archives: Film

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

db super broly poster

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

The first movie under the Dragon Ball Super umbrella is one that sets out to take what was previously non-canon and adapt it into the main series. The most recent two Dragon Ball Z films; Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’, ended up being the start of Dragon Ball Super which is now well over 100 episodes into its own series and several volumes of manga as well. It was last year that the series took a pause, seemingly coming to an end, only for this feature to be announced soon afterwards. Over the summer it was revealed that the subject of the film would be the infamous Broly, a character created for the prior Dragon Ball Z films that is either a fan-favorite or fan-hated character, depending on who you ask. In that universe, Broly was the featured villain of three separate films, and according to this humble blogger only one of those three films was any good. Broly is simply an all style and no substance villain. He’s big, mean, and powerful, but he has no real motivations beyond wanting to annihilate the hero of the series, Goku, whom he despises because he made him cry when the two were infants. Yup, you read that correctly.

Finding out that Broly would soon be adapted for his fourth film and presumably brought into canon left me with mixed feelings. Those feelings quickly shifted to positive ones though as what reason did I have to really doubt series creator Akira Toriyama? Broly already had the look, and aside from the reason for hating Goku being quite lame, the rest of his origin was fine. There was enough of a skeleton there that could be fleshed out into something worthwhile. And after doubting that there was anything left in this franchise, I’ve been proven wrong time and again by the last two features and basically the entirety of Dragon Ball Super. Toriyama, and those working with him, seem to have a handle on what sets this world apart from others. It’s the humor, as well as the action, that makes it go. The series can’t stop to take itself too seriously, or else it will betray what it is. Anchoring the series on the Goku and Vegeta characters is also fan-service at its best. It’s their differences as characters that works so well. It meant taking away most of what once made Vegeta a villain, but Dragon Ball Super has managed to make him likable and understandable without also softening him too much.

dbs broly normal

Broly is re-introduced in this one as canon with a tweak to his base design.

Before I go any further, it is worth pointing out just where this film follows in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me and have been following Dragon Ball Super via the dub that airs weekly on Toonami then you’re going to have some things spoiled for you. This film takes place after the events of Dragon Ball Super so far, so it’s after the Tournament of Power which has yet to officially begin. If you watch the Japanese dub of the show, then no problem as you saw the finale almost a year ago. For us just watching on a standard cable package, it means having the events of that tournament some-what spoiled. And I mean that very loosely as the setup for that tournament is that all of the universes who lose are destroyed. I don’t think any viewer expects the universe inhabited by Goku and his friends to be wiped out and have the story end there, so the fact that this film even exists is only the most mild of spoilers. The film doesn’t go into any detail about how that crisis was resolved, so I didn’t feel particularly spoiled by anything. Only the fate of one character would really count there, so if you want absolutely nothing else spoiled you may want to stop here as I can’t really discuss this film without mentioning that character at least in passing. There’s your final warning.

king vegetas court

King Vegeta’s court where Paragus is informed on the fate of his son.

Okay, with that out of the way we can freely talk about Dragon Ball Super: Broly! This is a review, not a synopsis like I did with my DBZ movie feature from last summer, so I don’t aim to spoil anything pertinent to the film beyond just going over the general plot and setup. If you’re a longtime fan, you’re probably most curious about how this new Broly (Vic Mignogna) equates with the old. He’s a different character, but it is also largely the same. The film begins several years before the present day when planet Vegeta was still a thing. In addition to seeing the early days of Broly, we’re also treated to something previously untouched upon and that’s the transfer of power over the universe from King Cold (Jason Douglas) to his son, Frieza (Christopher Ayers). It’s fun seeing that acknowledged, though it’s not particularly thrilling. Broly himself though is soon introduced as a baby, and like the prior Broly, he seems to have incredible untapped power. King Vegeta (Christopher Sabat) appears jealous that this child rivals his own infant son, also Vegeta (Sabat), and it may explain what he does next.

dbs kid goku

The flashback also contains a brief look at young Goku in a somewhat touching scene.

Like the prior Broly, this one will find himself banished from planet Vegeta. His father, Paragus (Dameon Clarke), suspects the king did it out of jealousy, but the king claims he did it out of fear over what Broly is capable of. A power so terrible cannot be controlled and he could destroy them all. It’s hard to say what the truth is, but Paragus refuses to see his son exiled to a barren world alone. He steals a spaceship and chases after him all while swearing revenge on the king who did this to him and his son. We also get another peek at Goku’s father, Bardok (Sonny Strait), and even meet his mother, Gine (Emily Neves). It retcons the events of Bardock’s solo film a bit, and also shows us a softer side to the character which provides some context for how Goku (Sean Schemmel) came to be so different from other Saiyans. We also get to check in on a toddler Vegeta and Radditz, which is amusing, and see the destruction of planet Vegeta from another angle. There’s even a mention of a brother to Prince Vegeta that I was not aware of. I don’t know if that’s mentioned at all in the episodes I have not seen, or it could be a hint at something to come in a future movie or series.

dbs paragus

The design for Broly’s father, Paragus, is also still in-line with his old portrayal only now he’s aged up. He’s also still a dick.

After the lengthy setup, the film jumps to the present day and finds Goku and Vegeta sparring. They’ll soon find out that Frieza is up to not good, and his stealing of the Dragon Balls from Bulma’s (Monica Rial) lab is what sets the plot in motion. That will get all of our main players to Earth, including a now fully grown Broly and his father, where the action takes place.

snow clothes goku and vegeta

Goku and Vegeta showing off their trendy new winter duds.

To no one’s surprise, the majority of this film is action as the two heroic saiyans take on Broly. Broly is depicted as actually kind-natured this time around, but his power drives him mad. It’s a subtle change from the previous version we’ve seen, but it’s handled far better and this character actually has meaning. He’s a sympathetic character, much more so than before, and one the audience isn’t necessarily instructed to root against. His design is only a little different from his old one, but he has a slightly more refined look. There’s some grit there as well and he actually looks like someone who has lived his whole life in exile. He’ll find some sympathetic characters which help add to his story, and overall I think he’s a fine addition to the cast this time.

dbs god vegeta

Vegeta demonstrating his mastery of the Super Saiyan God form.

The action is the main attraction, and after the slow-paced opening I am happy to report that no action was spared as a result. This is a meaty film, and by its end you may even start to feel exhausted. It keeps upping the visual ante along the way though, so it never gets boring. New tricks are unleashed, some more abstract than others. My favorite was a first-person camera in the middle of the fight that really pulled me in. It sounds like a gimmick, but it worked really well to see the lightning-quick action unfold from such a perspective. It was also tastefully utilized, so it didn’t overstay its welcome. There’s plenty of big spots, and also some rather brutal ones. Nothing is gratuitous though, and overall if you’re a fan of action this is one satisfying and spectacular film. There is also less emphasis on fan-service this time around when compared with the last two films. There’s no effort to get all of the old gang back together and the cast is actually fairly trim. This one simply has a story to tell and a battle to feature.

dbs goku blue

The film is visually stunning, but there are moments where I felt like I was watching a cut scene from Dragon Ball FighterZ.

The film is still mostly done in 2D with digital hand-drawn animation, the design of which was handled by Naohiro Shintani instead of Tadayoshi Yamamuro who has done virtually all of Dragon Ball previously so all of the characters have a slightly altered look to them, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say they appear off-model. Those hand-drawn parts are delicious for the eyes and Dragon Ball has never looked better. The movements of the characters are so fluid and sharp, and the slightly muted color palette is reminiscent of the manga more so than the actual anime. Vegeta’s battle suit, in particular, uses a more navy color than a bright blue and Goku’s orange gi is just slightly pale. This being Dragon Ball, there’s also lots of bright greens and blacks and some cute character designs amongst the villains. There are instances of obvious CG, most noticeably when space ships are shown. It’s also still used in battles, but it’s less of a distraction than in past films. There are still times though when I felt like I was viewing a cut scene from a video game as opposed to an anime. I wouldn’t go so far as to say those moments were jarring, but the hand-drawn stuff is just so flawless that I wish they just tried to stick with that as much as possible.

broly vegeta snow

Arctic settings are among my favorites in Dragon Ball. The brightly colored characters just look great against a cool backdrop.

The music composed by Norihito Sumitomo is also quite bombastic and in-time with the visuals. Some of the main themes, in particular Broly’s and a character I won’t mention by name as it would constitute a spoiler, include a chant in the song where the name of the character is spoken. It further adds to the fighting video game feel of some of the visuals and I’d consider it ludicrous if this were any other property save for maybe Mortal Kombat. It manages to add to the spectacle of everything. Also, some old favorites return though it’s worth mentioning this movie doesn’t feature an opening credits scene like the old ones. I kept waiting for it to pop-in, until I realized it wasn’t coming. It’s probably for the best, though I did kind of miss it.

dbs full power broly

If you’re looking for some of the old Broly you know (and love?) you’ll get that here as well.

Ultimately, I was left feeling like seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly on the big screen was very much a worthwhile experience. This film was designed for that setting, and I really enjoyed my time with it. I was surprised to find it actually showing at quite a few theaters in my area, and further surprised to find many shows sold out. Thankfully, I was planning on seeing this alone as I couldn’t find two seats side-by-side anywhere. The machinations of the plot are pretty contained so if you haven’t bothered to watch Dragon Ball Super you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into this and and figuring out what’s going on, so don’t let that be an obstacle. If you ever cared about Dragon Ball, then you owe it to yourself to catch it on the big screen.

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Dec. 15 – The Night Before Christmas with Tom and Jerry

tom and jerry xmas

Originally released December 6, 1941

As someone who loves the cartoon shorts produced by Warner and Disney, I sometimes am guilty of overlooking the contributions of MGM from that same era. MGM was a big player back then, and their flagship creation was Tom and Jerry. The cat and mouse pair first debuted in 1940 and were the creation of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, two folks most associated with television creations through their company Hanna-Barbera. Because the quality of those television productions is largely poor, Hanna-Barbera is more of a punch-line in the world of animation which is why I always try to keep things in scope. Their creation of Tom and Jerry is their crowning achievement and their greatest contribution to the world of animation. They were also responsible for bringing animation to television, which is something we can likely all agree was a good thing, even if we turn our noses up at the likes of Jabber Jaw and Grape Ape.

Tom and Jerry’s third cartoon was the 1941 classic The Night Before Christmas. It was nominated, but did not win, an Academy Award and it was once a Christmas staple on Cartoon Network, but is now relegated to home video and streaming services. It was written and directed by the duo of Hanna and Barbera and even features voice work by Clarence Nash, as Tom, who is most famous for being the voice of Donald Duck. He went uncredited in this short, perhaps because of his association with Disney or perhaps just because a lot of folks initially went uncredited who work in animation.

jerry trap

Jerry’s too smart to fall for that.

The short opens with a narrator (Frank Graham) reciting the opening to A Visit from Saint Nicholas, more commonly referred to simply as Twas the Night Before Christmas. The camera pans through a cozy home all decorated for Christmas and rests on a mouse nook in the wall with a mousetrap outside it. The trap contains a wedge of cheese with a festive red ribbon placed around. Given the cheese is in a trap, I’m thinking this isn’t the work of one Santa Claus. The narrator ends his narration after the conclusion of the mouse line from the poem, which is Jerry’s cue to emerge from his home.

one happy mouse

Jerry is so stinkin’ adorable throughout this cartoon.

Jerry is a happy little rodent who seems delighted by the festive decor. He pays the cheese no mind as he happily skips over to the Christmas tree which is loaded with gifts and treats. He finds a candy cane and licks the stripe off of it and also manages to get his head stuck in the mouth of a stuffed lion. He soon discovers that same lion has a squeaky toy in its belly, and he delights in bouncing up and down on it to make it squeak. The force of his bounce causes him to bounce off of the lion and come to rest on a soft, furry, gray surface. Mistaking this for another toy, he bounces up and down trying to make it squeak, only to come to find he’s actually bouncing on the rump of one Tom the cat.

jerry attacked

I bet I know how this encounter ends…

Upon being woken up by the careless mouse, Tom takes a swipe at him only for Jerry to avoid him and slap a Do Not Open Until Christmas sticker over his mouth. It’s a frequent gag in old cartoons, even in ones not taking place at Christmas (Daffy Duck Hunt). Tom chases Jerry around the Christmas tree and through the various toys where the characters pause for comic hijinks. Jerry uses the various toys to his advantage, and even demonstrates how cartoon science works. Upon noticing a missing bulb in a string of Christmas lights on the tree, Jerry jumps into the exposed socket and immediately glows like an angel atop a tree. When Tom grabs Jerry he’s immediately electrocuted though Jerry is unharmed.

xmas gag

…nailed it!

Jerry is able to escape through more toys and comes to rest atop a model train. Tom is forced to stop when the crossing bar for the train is lowered and Jerry goes on by. He’s a bit careless though as he’s knocked from the train when he fails to duck for a tunnel giving Tom an opening. Jerry hides in a boxing glove and is able to jab at Tom who grabs the matching glove. He gives chase once more and Jerry takes shelter in a box, which turns out to be a jack-in-the-box which belts Tom in the face.

lighted jerry

I’ve seen enough cartoons to know it won’t end well for you, Tom, if you touch that mouse.

After recovering from the blow of the toy, Tom gives chase once more and Jerry arms himself with a piece of mistletoe he plucked from a wrapped gift. He stands there holding it over his head while making kissing faces towards Tom. Tom pauses in his pursuit to fold his arms across his chest and feign indifference to Jerry’s advances. He soon softens and appears to be flattered at Jerry’s proposal, eventually giving in and kissing the little mouse. While Tom is basking in the the afterglow of the smooch, Jerry slips behind him and kicks him in the butt.

tom and jerry mistletoe

Mistletoe:  the only aphrodisiac that works on sight.

Tom, now wounded both physically and emotionally, chases Jerry once more who jumps through the mail slot in the door and escapes outside. From there he’s able to pelt Tom with a well-aimed snowball through the mail slot, but it’s his final act of mischief as Tom simply piles household objects in front of the door to prevent Jerry from getting back in.

concerned tom

Tom soon begins to worry about that adorable little mouse.

Satisfied he’s dealt with the mouse, Tom grabs a fluffy pillow and prepares to lay down beside a roaring fire. As he does so the mournful tunes of “Silent Night” begin to play, and Tom looks over at the blocked mail slot with some concern. Jerry is shown pacing back and forth in the snow outside. The camera jumps between the two as the volume of the music increases. Tom tries to distract himself, but it’s clear he’s experiencing some guilt over trapping the mouse out in the cold. Jerry continues to pace as the snow accumulates around him eventually overtaking him. When Tom can’t stand it any longer, he races over to the door and removes the blockage. He then hides behind a corner and waits for Jerry to come back in. When he doesn’t, Tom opens the door and sees a snow-covered object sticking up from out of the snow. He grabs it and it at first resembles a popsicle. He shakes it to reveal a frozen Jerry and he races back inside.

frozen jerry

A mousicle.

By the fire, Tom thaws Jerry out by the tail and places him on his pillow. As Jerry comes to, he’s at first scared to see Tom but is soon gifted a candy cane from the now softened cat. He happily licks it while Tom goes over to a bowl of milk to indulge himself. Jerry then races over to stop Tom from drinking the milk. He plunges the candy cane into the milk splashing Tom in the process, but also triggering a mouse trap he had apparently hidden in the milk for his adversary. Tom smiles and returns to his milk while Jerry heads for his nook. He pauses outside it and takes note of the wrapped cheese wedge on the mouse trap. Using the hooked end of his candy cane, he safely removes the cheese only for the trap to snap-back and reveal it wasn’t a trap at all, but a music box which plays “Jingle Bells.” As the song plays, Jerry looks to the camera with glee as the short ends.

jerry rescue

Jerry repays the favor, because Christmas.

The Night Before Christmas is a delightful little short starring Tom and Jerry. It contains the chase scenes the duo is known for while also putting a Christmas spin on everything. The layout of the home and the various Christmas decorations creates a very festive setting. It’s a home I want to visit for Christmas. The sweet conclusion of the short is also the right note to strike for a Christmas themed cartoon. It’s interesting that MGM was willing to show Tom and Jerry in such a light after only a few shorts, but it’s still sweet nonetheless and for most people who actually view it today I doubt it feels too soon. There’s plenty of festive music as well, and I’m glad the short didn’t include the entire poem it borrows its title from. This is also the only post this year that is duplicative of acartoonchristmas.com, but it’s so wonderful I think there’s plenty of room for many posts like this.

jerrys happy xmas

Just look at that happy little guy!

Visually the short is near breathtaking. Jerry is so plump and happy and his expressions feel authentic and genuine. I love how happy he is just checking out all of the Christmas toys under the tree and his expression to close short is perfection. Tom has a nice scruff to his appearance, considering he is a tom cat after all, but he too is capable of all manner of expressions. I really enjoyed the back and forth between he and Jerry during the mistletoe scene, and Tom’s anguish over Jerry being locked out in the cold was played well. The characters do not speak, so it falls on the animators to make sure we understand what they’re experiencing in the moment. A particular triumph is when Tom removes the obstruction from the door in hopes that Jerry will return. He hides behind the wall likely because he’s not entirely sure he’s comfortable with Jerry knowing he extended such a courtesy to him, but all the while the look of fear is etched on his face that the little mouse is no more.

Tom and Jerry cartoons may not air on television much anymore, but they’re still easy to come by. This particular short has been released several times on home video including the Christmas themed Tom and Jerry: Santa’s Little Helpers and the Blu-ray release Tom and Jerry Golden Collection Volume One. If you just want to see this short and aren’t interested in purchasing a DVD or Blu-ray, you probably won’t have much trouble finding it online for free to stream. And I totally recommend it as this is right up there with my favorite Christmas shorts from Disney.


Dec. 14 – Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

olaf frozen adventureJust past the halfway point is where our most controversial Christmas special appears:  Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. It’s not controversial for anything fun. No alluring scenes or hints of violence or anything like that. It’s controversial because of how poorly received it was when it was paired last year with the Pixar film Coco for it’s theatric release. Pixar and Disney films often have a short film that leads them off, but usually that short is from the same studio and it’s, well, short! Pixar may be owned by Disney, but the audience doesn’t entirely overlap. Pixar attracts an older audience while Disney still appeals more to children and families. And Coco was a pretty important film for a lot of people. Centered around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, a lot of people and families of hispanic origin were delighted to see Disney recognize their culture with such a film. That it was attached to a Frozen short that wasn’t very short could have been viewed as the studio not believing in Coco, that it needed the marketing might of Frozen behind it, in order to succeed. I like to think it didn’t, as Coco is one of the finest films ever released by Pixar. The backlash against the Frozen short though was enough to cause Disney to pull it after only a couple of weeks. It was then shown on television shortly after, where it belonged as a Christmas special considering it’s the exact length one would expect a half-hour television special to run at.

It’s possible that Disney didn’t believe in Coco, but I think the placement of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is a bit less cynical. When Frozen was released in 2013 it was a huge success. Disney probably knew it had a hit on its hands, but you’d forgive the company if it was a bit hesitant. Frozen had a long, tortured, development cycle when it actually began as a 2D feature that ran into lots of problems, technical and with the story. Movies, music, video games – these things happen with art and entertainment that has long development cycles, but usually when a project runs into the problems Frozen did the end result is often underwhelming. Frozen bucked that trend though and it was pretty obvious this was the start of a new franchise. The problem is, no one really put much thought towards the future, so a Frozen sequel would be many years in the making. To try to keep Frozen in the hearts and minds of its audience, Disney commissioned some shorts. First was Frozen Fever, a true short released in 2015 (where it was more logically paired with the live-action Cinderella movie) followed by this one in 2017 (there was also a Lego Friends television special in 2016 called Frozen Northern Lights). This particular short seems to obviously have begun as a television special, but Disney wanted to give it the big-screen treatment, which obviously didn’t go so well. I did see this with Coco and I agree with those who felt it was far too long for that setting. I have no real affinity for the franchise, my kids love it and so does my wife, but I think it’s fine. I imagine those suffering from Frozen fatigue found it hard to sit through this one when they just wanted to see Coco. When are they going to get to the fireworks?!

olaf search

The world’s most popular snowman gets his own Christmas special.

With Disney making the move to television with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, I’m more optimistic this story can find a home. I’m running it this early in the countdown in hopes that this beats it to air for 2018, if it is to air at all (check the bottom of the post if you’re only interested in that detail). It has the talent of Walt Disney Studios behind it so it looks every bit as good as other animated works to be released in theaters, and even looks better than the feature Frozen. And as the title implies, it’s going to feature a heavy dose of the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). It’s sometimes dangerous to make the comedy relief character the main attraction, but considering this is a shorter piece than a movie it’s a safer move than say what Cars 2 did with Mater. And while it is a Christmas special, the actual holiday is rarely mentioned as it tries to be a catch-all for all of the winter solstice holidays.

party planning

Anna and Elsa are getting ready to celebrate their first Christmas in forever and are planning a big celebration to kick things off.

The special opens with Olaf trying to surprise various attendants in the castle. They’re setting up for a big surprise party of some kind and the snowman is a little too eager to get the festivities underway. Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) soon approach (in new winter attire; gotta think about the real world toys!) to explain to him that the surprise occurs after the ceremony unveiling the holiday bell. The characters break into song, “Ring in the Season,” and if you didn’t assume it let me explicitly state this thing is a full-blown musical. The songs aren’t written by Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez this time around though, but by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel. The pair manages to capture the sound of the film’s musical stylings, which is actually admirable considering they had less time to work with.

As the pair sing, we see a crowd of people enter the courtyard while Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven bring in the bell. It’s hoisted to the top of the tower and rung and everyone rejoices. Anna and Elsa then try to welcome everyone into their surprise party, but to their surprise, no one notices as they’re all leaving. When they go running up to individuals inviting them inside they’re basically met with the same response; they all have to return home to tend to their family’s holiday tradition. A sweet old couple even suggests they wouldn’t want to intrude on the royal family’s traditions. Olaf remarks that the surprise was that everyone left.

flemminggrad

Kristoff getting in a little lute time.

Kristoff tries to cheer everyone up with our second song, “The Ballad of Flemmingrad.” In a style similar to his “Reindeer are Better than People” routine from the movie, Kristoff sings about some troll idol you stuff grass into the nostrils of and lick. Anna is almost delighted by the grossness of it, especially when Kristoff unveils the idol itself. Olaf just reminds her that she’s a princess and doesn’t need to settle. Elsa is legitimately grossed out and not at all interested in Kristoff’s tradition, but is at least polite. Kristoff assures them they’ll come around when they try his Flemmy Stew and takes his leave.

dramatic elsa

Elsa never misses an opportunity for drama.

Olaf is left to ask Anna and Elsa about their family traditions, which leads into a reprise of the “Ring in the Season” song in which Elsa remembers the bell ceremonies from their youth, before Anna’s accident. The two realize they don’t have any traditions, as they were never together for Christmas due to Elsa locking herself in her room. She rather dramatically apologizes to Anna for being the cause of their tradition-less solstice, and hastens off to (where else?) her room. Olaf’s a bit downtrodden to see his surrogate family so glum for the holiday, so he decides to set off into town with Sven and a sled to find traditions they can enjoy.

olaf candy cane

Pretty sure that’s a Funko Pop variant.

Olaf then goes door to door to every house in Arrendelle in search of traditions. Like some sort of anti-Claus, he collects traditions to fill his sleigh along his way. The people all seem helpful and cheerful, but I wonder if they fear reprisal if they deny the queen’s loyal attendant? As Olaf does this he breaks out into song, “That Time of Year,” in which Olaf asks what people do at that time of year. It’s a cute way to basically avoid saying Christmas so that they can include families that have obvious Jewish and even Pagan celebrations. This bit is mostly played for laughs as Olaf first receives a candy cane that gives him an intense sugar rush when he replaces his carrot nose with the candy cane. He also gets to comment on the dangers of leaving socks over an open flame and even encounters adorable kittens. Olaf plus kittens is indeed a cuteness overload. There’s also a fun sequence during the song’s climax where the visuals switch to resemble a Christmas sweater.

olaf kittens

Olaf + Kittens in sweaters = adorable

Olaf’s last stop ends up being the home of Oaken (Chris Williams) who invites Olaf into the sauna with his family. Olaf enjoys it, even though it causes him to melt leading to a fun visual of Oaken tossing a bucket of melted Olaf into the chill night air causing him to refreeze instantly. Oaken gifts Olaf a portable, personal-sized, sauna for his sleigh and one of his tastefully revealing towels. Olaf is excited and he and Sven head off back to the castle while Olaf improvises some words to the tune of “Jingle Bells” to show his excitement. While he rubs the towel across his rear he disturbs the sauna behind him, causing a piece of coal to pop out and hilariously find it’s way out of the sleigh, off the cranium of a squirrel, and back into the sleigh where a fire commences. Olaf is blissfully unaware as the flames roar behind him and the sleigh breaks off on one side from Sven’s reigns. As they were about to head down a hill, this poses a problem for poor Sven as the sleigh loops out in front of him and pulls him down. Olaf remains unaware of their predicament, instead remarking how they’re making wonderful time, until the sleigh breaks off from Sven completely and goes off a chasm. Olaf is tossed to the other side, but the sleigh does not make it and the tired joke of the sleigh falling out of sight down a cliff, only to explode upon impact with the ground, is recycled from the movie.

burning sleigh

Of course Olaf’s adventure ends in disaster.

The setting shifts back to the castle where Elsa is approaching Anna’s room to apologize for apologizing earlier about being the cause of their lack of traditions (I guess?). She finds Anna is not in her room proper though, but above it in the attic. She’s rummaging though her old things looking for traditions. They try to make this scene cute and sweet, but it’s not really felt. There’s a joke made at Elsa’s expense regarding her gloves, but the two do find an old jewelry box. Elsa seems hopeful when she finds it and gives it to Anna imploring her to look inside. When Anna opens it she reacts with delight, but the audience doesn’t get to see the contents of the box (yet).

in the attic

The girls make a discovery in the attic that’s sure to be heartwarming and convenient.

With Olaf and Sven separated by the chasm, they’re forced to split up. Sven has a direct path back to the castle, but the cheerful snowman does not. Even though he lost all of his traditions, Olaf is at least comforted by the fact that he was able to save one:  a fruit cake. He then cheerfully tells Sven he’ll see him back at the castle, sensing there’s a harmless shortcut lurking in the doom-laden woods behind him. As he disappears into the darkness he exclaims “Oooo, puppies!” before the sound of wolves savaging the poor snowman are heard.

What do we call this Sven-Olaf mash-up? Svolaf? Olen? Maybe just “cute”?

Sven races back to the castle fearing his buddy’s life is in danger. He barges in on Kristoff who is happily finishing his stew. He presents Sven with a bowl, but when Sven puts a carrot in it to make the stew resemble Olaf’s face Kristoff just confuses the gesture for Sven wanting more carrots. Sven then mimes the danger Olaf is in and the visuals are pretty funny. It’s a bit awkward though since one of Kristoff’s gimmicks in the original film was that he had little trouble understanding the reindeer, but he’s now oblivious. Fortunately for Olaf, Anna and Elsa were in the doorway and they understand him perfectly, for the sake of humor. They quickly sound the bell to organize a search party, while Kristoff scolds Sven for sitting around while Olaf is in trouble.

sad snowman

One dejected snowman.

Back in the forest, a battered Olaf is running from some hungry wolves while trying to hang onto his fruit cake. He dives through the thick hemlock and emerges on the other side looking worse for ware, but he’s happy still because he was able to save the fruit cake. As he raises it in triumph to the heavens, a hawk swoops in and snatches it. Olaf now allows himself to feel sad and reprises “That Time of Year” but in a somber fashion. Blaming himself for failing to secure traditions for his friends, he wanders off into the darkening woods and slumps down beside a tree as the snow whips up.

olaf the tradition

Olaf set out to find a new tradition for Anna and Elsa, but it turns out he’s the tradition (aww!)

Elsa and Anna are shown, montage style, going door to door to organize a search party to find Olaf. Soon the whole town is out in the woods looking for Olaf. As Anna calls out for him, Olaf responds with a “Not here,” as the snow drifts have covered everything about him save for his nose and “hair.” Recognizing he’s a bit down, Anna and Elsa smile and play along with the game as they ask aloud where Olaf could be. Olaf responds in the third person explaining he set off to find traditions, and that they then caught fire, as Sven shows up to pull him out of the snow drift by the carrot. Olaf apologizes for losing the traditions, but they urge him to cheer up, and Anna pulls out that box from earlier. When Olaf looks inside he sees dozens of pictures of him, and even a crudely made doll. The sisters explain that when Elsa was exiled to her room, Anna would make her an Olaf card every year and slide it under her door. Olaf is their family tradition, and they embrace the little snowman and he starts to cheer up.

KRISTOFF, ANNA, ELSA, OLAF, SVEN

And we get to end on a happy Christmas visual.

Elsa then breaks into song, because of course this is going to end on a song. “When We’re Together” is the special’s big song that sums up its message. Elsa and Anna lead the townsfolk back towards the town and to the harbor coated in ice. Elsa magics up a banquet while people mostly just watch the sisters dance while some kids get involved a little bit. A big ice tree is created by Elsa’s magic, and Olaf gets to place the star on top and sing the song’s closing line. Their special photo-op is broken up though when the hawk from earlier returns the fruit cake, dropping it out of the sky to land on Olaf. He declares the return of the fruit cake a Christmas miracle as the special ends.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was certainly misplaced as a caddy to an unrelated film. It’s a TV special with feature quality presentation that’s best enjoyed by those who actually like the characters from Frozen. Disney had done this before with Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but that was paired with a re-release of The Rescuers and was included as a way to offer patrons something new. And even so, that special is best enjoyed on TV as well, even though it’s no longer an annual feature. This special leans heavy on its music and the Olaf character and the attempted humor through Olaf works quite well. He’s a very optimistic and excitable character, but he’s also prone to deadpan humor. It’s an interesting dichotomy that works. I don’t know if he could anchor something longer, but for a half-hour television special he’s suitable. The humor and drama shared between the sisters is less successful. It’s forced in there because it has to be. Anna and Elsa are mostly here to sing, and when they stick to that the special is more successful.

Anything based on Frozen is going to be judged by its songs. After the likes of “Let It Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” were so well-received in 2013 it became clear that anything else involving Frozen would need songs to match. The “Ring in the Season” song is well-suited as a light opener, while the Olaf vehicle “That Time of Year” is cheery and the visuals that go with it help to make it an enjoyable song. “When We’re Together” feels like it’s meant to be the showcase. It has a nice melody, though some of the song’s drama, like the narrative of the short, feels forced. It’s trying too hard to be the special’s biggest moment. It’s redeemed by the big ending, but it feels like the kind of song made for TV as opposed to one intended for the theater.

olaf christian

“That Time of Year” gives the short a chance to show various holiday customs.

As a Christmas special, this one is plenty good enough. Perhaps those who feel there is a war on Christmas will turn up their noses at the sometimes reluctance of the special to even mention the holiday. Inclusivity is a virtue, and in being so inclusive the special is able to find interesting visual elements for Olaf’s journey through town. The special shows Jewish traditions, but it’s not as if it doesn’t show Christian ones as well amongst the townsfolk. They even allude to Santa at one point.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is available to purchase digitally and should also be available on Blu Ray and DVD when this post goes live. Since it was shown on television last year, it’s my expectation that Disney intends to include this with its annual holiday specials on ABC. It would be strange if it did not as the 21 minute runtime is perfectly suited for prime time viewing and the popularity of the franchise will likely equate to solid advertising revenues for the Disney owned network. If it’s anything like Disney’s other major Christmas specials, it will first air on ABC then receive encore runnings on either Freeform or The Disney Channel during the lead-up to Christmas allowing viewers plenty of opportunities to catch it. And if you couldn’t tell, I recommend this one. While I don’t think it’s as good as the excellent Prep & Landing, it’s certainly worth an annual viewing.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure aired Thursday November 29th, but if you missed it then good news as it’s being shown again this coming Wednesday, December 19th, on ABC at 8:00 PM EST.


Dec. 11 – “Santa’s Surprise”

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“Santa’s Surprise” first released December 5, 1947

Cartoons were a pretty big deal at one point in time. Any studio that wanted to be thought of as a major studio had its own animation division and its own characters. Everyone knows the big ones from Disney and Warner and then after them I suppose the next biggest was MGM with Tom & Jerry, as well as others. Eventually animation became less important as television invaded the homes of people all around the world. No longer did customers heading off to the movies expect a newsreel, cartoon, and feature and the cartoon short started to disappear. Now it’s largely a novelty and a bunch of the lesser ones have slipped into the public domain.

noveltoon christmas

Paramount’s Noveltoons ran from 1943 until about 1967.

Of the many cartoons that appear to be floating around in the public domain, it would seem a lot belong to Paramount Pictures. They were there early as well, with the likes of Betty Boop and Popeye, but they scrambled for stars in the 40s and 50s. This was a time when the short was fading, and even Mickey Mouse had all but been retired. One of the studio’s stars during this era was Little Audrey. She was basically a replacement for the more popular Little Lulu character that Paramount declined to keep licensing. I wouldn’t say Little Audrey is a total rip-off of the Little Lulu character, but there are certainly some similarities. Paramount was at least smart enough to give her a different voice, and tasked Mae Questel with the honors. Questel is best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl.

santa singing

A rather pleasant looking Santa flies around singing to himself on Christmas Eve. The man loves his job.

The debut for Little Audrey is actually not a true Little Audrey cartoon, but she’s the most recognizable face in it. “Santa’s Surprise” is a 1947 Noveltoons cartoon short that depicts some kids giving Santa a present of his own on Christmas. It opens rather simply with Santa flying around in his sleigh on Christmas Eve. Ahead of him, six chunky reindeer pull his sleigh. It hasn’t come up much this year so far, but my biggest Christmas special pet peeve is when Santa is depicted with less than 8 reindeer. I won’t demand they include the 9th, but come on! There has to be at least 8!

under bed

I guess this kid thinks this face on his pillow is enough to fool Santa. Looks like it worked.

As Santa flies around he enters homes to stuff stockings. From under beds and behind blankets little eyes watch his every move. Audrey has the most auspicious debut when Santa arrives at her house to find she cut a hole in her stocking, thus attempting to trick him into refilling it over and over. Santa laughs and it’s clear he’s having himself a good time. He even stops to take note of a little stocking hanging outside a mouse hole and stuffs a wedge of cheese into it. Poor cartoon mice, all they ever get is cheese.

santa snores

I have my name on my bed too.

With his work done, Santa returns home to the North Pole. His existence in this cartoon actually seems rather sad as his house is empty. No elves. No Mrs. Claus. Just a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Santa is pretty tired and climbs into bed, though he pauses to wish himself a “Merry Christmas!” in the mirror, which is either cute or just further adds to his depressing surroundings. As he snores away, the tassel on his night-cap billowing with each snore, some eyes emerge from his sleigh. It’s a group of multi-cultural children! They’ve stowed away in Santa’s sleigh throughout the night to reach his home. This is clearly not the same Santa of my youth who was impossible to catch in the act.

audrey and kids

Little Audrey, center, is going to tell these kids what’s up.

The kids all climb out of the sleigh and peer into Santa’s home. They take note of the dour surroundings and decide they should do something for Santa since he does so much for the children of the world. Little Audrey is basically the focal point of the group as she’s the one who suggests they help him out. As the white American of the group, I’m guessing the animators thought no one else could possibly lead this bunch. We get a little word from everyone, and boy are there some uncomfortable depictions here. The little black kid somewhat resembles a white kid in blackface. It’s not good. The Chinese child has tiny slits for eyes and speaks in stunted English. There’s a Hawaiian girl that seems to only communicate in hula and another questionable accent on the Spanish girl. This is 1947, folks!

sneeky kids

The kids sneak around, until they realize they don’t really have to.

From here it’s a pretty benign little cartoon. The kids sneak into the house and try to keep quiet as they get busy cleaning up the place. One of the boys gets the seat of his pants set on fire and has to plant it in the snow, which is probably the only real physical comedy here. I did find it amusing how they keep insisting on being quiet so as not to wake Santa, and then Little Audrey just starts singing a song as she dusts the place.

hot buns

The physical comedy is not high in this one, but a kid does set his ass on fire.

When they’re finished, they leave Santa’s tree decorated and with a present under it. He’s startled and wakes up to find the children have fled, but he sees how clean everything is and finds the present under the tree. It’s a music box with all of the faces of the children on it and there’s a little note reminding Santa not to forget them next year. He gives a hearty laugh, and the short is over. How did those kids get home? I have no idea.

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Little Audrey, just over here dusting this fish.

If it weren’t for the dated representations of the other cultures of the children, “Santa’s Surprise” would be a totally boring, but sweet, Christmas cartoon short. It’s got a nice, simple, message about repaying acts of kindness with more kindness. Who is more deserving of a Christmas present than Santa Claus himself? It’s not an unheard of thing, and other shorts and specials have tackled the same and probably have done it better. The Prep & Landing short “Operation:  Secret Santa” is one that comes to mind. While it doesn’t feature children giving something to Santa in thanks, it does feature Mrs. Claus trying to get the perfect gift for Santa.

The absence of Mrs. Claus is also rather bizarre. I don’t know if she is more of a modern staple, but it seems like the concept should have been common in the 40s. After all, she was in the agreed upon very first story about Santa. This completely lackadaisical and certainly jolly Santa Claus is both nice and weird. He really doesn’t seem to care if he’s seen or heard and obviously he doesn’t check the sleigh much. I always do enjoy seeing simple homes from this era depicted in cartoons like the ones Santa visits. Maybe we should just go back to hanging a sock for gifts instead of filling up the underside of a tree? My credit card bills would like that very much.

santa prime

“Santa’s Surprise” has been released a bunch of times on video since it entered the public domain.

Paramount isn’t the most well-remembered producer of animation, and if we’re judging them solely on the quality of their animation then it’s relatively easy to see why. This picture is not on par with what the other studios were putting out. It almost looks like it’s ten years older than it really is. The characters are bit rubbery looking and there isn’t a ton of animation that’s out of the ordinary. It’s far from ugly or off-putting, but you definitely know you’re watching something old. It’s also possible this wasn’t preserved all that well and there could be some deterioration at work here as well. The backgrounds are nice though and there’s a cold, yet cozy, quality to them. There’s lots of wood which means lots of wood grain, but nothing seems too busy or cluttered.

If you want to check out “Santa’s Surprise” and other cartoons that feature Little Audrey, then I actually have some good news. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released some restored cartoons from the public domain and “Santa’s Surprise” is included. At least, that’s according to Wikipedia. It claims it was released on October 11 of this year, but I can’t find anything online and it’s not cited. “Santa’s Surprise” has been released on DVD over the years and it’s not expensive. Since it’s also public domain, you can find streams of it online with relative ease as well, including Prime Video. It’s really not worth seeking out, but if you want something light and have a taste for old cartoons then you might get something out of it.


Happy 90th Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

celebrating mickey

Don’t be fooled, we’re not reviewing this release here, but it’s probably good!

Did you hear? The legendary Mickey Mouse turns 90 on this day owing his debut to Steamboat Willie, which premiered November 18, 1928. Now, nothing momentous seems to occur these days without a dash of controversy. Most fans of Disney and Mickey are well aware that his first cartoon was actually Plane Crazy from earlier that year, but Disney considers Steamboat Willie his true debut since it was the first with synchronized sound and was the first widely distributed. If that’s the criteria Disney wants to use then so be it. It doesn’t really matter since either way Mickey Mouse has endured for 90 years. In that time he’s been a cinema darling, television host, and brand mascot for the massive Walt Disney Company and he’s quite possibly the most recognized fictional character around the globe. If he’s not, then the list of competitors is rather small.

Over the years the Disney company has celebrated Mickey in various ways, some small and some not so small. He’s always been front and center at the various parks, and yet he is still awaiting his first actual ride (with one in production). Walt Disney famously remarked that it all started with a mouse referring to Mickey’s star power in the early days, though he’s only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995. He did eventually make the jump to television, but his appearances there are most relegated to the younger crowd as opposed to a general audience. This isn’t to say that Disney has mistreated their mascot at times, but to someone like myself who adores hand-drawn animation it does disappoint me that Disney doesn’t celebrate the earlier work of Mickey as much as it could.

mickey oreo

Disney has found some “creative” ways to celebrate its mascot this year.

For Mickey’s 90th, that has been partially rectified. Disney recently released the Blu-ray Celebrating Mickey which is a collection of 13 cartoons that reach all the way back to 1928 and as far forward as 2013. As tempted as I am to check out some Mickey cartoons in high-definition, I did not pick up this set since I already own all of these cartoons elsewhere. I’m still happy to see Disney put out such a package, but cutting it down to 13 feels like such a tease.

In celebration of Mickey, I’m going to list out some cartoons I think are worth checking out. I’ll do one for every decade of Mickey’s life, while also trying to pick a cartoon from each decade (not every decade contains a new Mickey cartoon) to highlight. Almost all of these cartoons can be found on one of the Walt Disney Treasures collections, with the only exception being the cartoons released after 1995. And to make this a companion piece to Disney’s Celebrating Mickey release, I’ll refrain from doubling-up on any cartoon released on that collection (which does include some of my favorites like Mickey’s Trailer and Brave Little Tailor).

mickey haunted house

Watch black and white Mickey get terrified!

The 1920s – The Haunted House (December 2, 1929)

Just sneaking into the 20’s is this one, The Haunted House, which features Mickey in (you guessed it!) a haunted house. Animated by Ub Iwerks, The Haunted House contains lots of flashy, spooky, imagery and great sound design. Mickey mostly plays the role of scared victim while an eerie shadowy figure chases him and forces him to play the organ. Don’t worry though, as Mickey does eventually escape, but I like that there isn’t a twist to the ending. The house appears to be legitimately haunted.

pluto judgement

Hell is mostly cats (I say this as a cat dad).

The 1930s – Pluto’s Judgement Day (August 31, 1935)

The 30s is probably Mickey’s best decade and it’s loaded with good stuff. Pluto’s Judgement Day is one of Mickey’s earliest color cartoons and it centers around Pluto who dreams about going to Hell. It’s ruled by cats and the whole thing is brought on by Pluto feeling guilty about being mean to a kitten and the whole thing is really surreal. It has a cute ending so we don’t feel too bad for old Pluto.

goofy donald moose

Not the sort of predicament one wants to be found in.

Moose Hunters (February 20, 1937)

To make up for no Mickey cartoons in the 60s, we’re doing another from the 30s. Moose Hunters co-stars Donald Duck and Goofy as the trio try to hunt a moose. They’re terrible at it and get into all kinds of mischief, including Donald and Goofy disguising themselves as a female moose and attracting the affection of a bull moose. It’s all good slapstick, and for some reason hapless hunters make for good comedy characters.

donald symphony hour

Donald mostly steals the show here, as he often would.

The 1940s – Symphony Hour (March 20, 1942)

Some consider this the unofficial sequel to The Band Concert, Mickey’s colorized debut. This one is a full ensemble piece as Mickey leads a symphony to impress Pete, who is referred to as Mr. Macaroni in the cartoon. Everything is a disaster though, and Donald has to blow a gasket while Macaroni howls with delight at the misfortune of the band. He turns angry though as the show gets worse, though he comes around when the show ends with applause.

Squatter's Rights chip

Pluto’s nose as a speed bag is a pretty good gag.

Squatter’s Rights (June 7, 1946)

No Mickey cartoons in the 70s either, so here’s another 40s toon. Squatter’s Rights was Mickey’s first cartoon in several years, and includes some lines or sounds recorded by Jimmy MacDonald, the second official voice of Mickey Mouse. It also includes Chip and Dale, who are woken by Mickey who returns to his hunting camp to find the chipmunks sleeping in his stove. Or rather, Pluto is the one to make the discovery which begins a bunch shenanigans in which Pluto keeps getting blamed for Chip and Dale’s mischief. It includes a bit of a dark spot with a gun, and it’s also somewhat notable since Chip and Dale end up winning the encounter.

mickey and seal

The seal is adorable. While he didn’t feature in any other Mickey shorts, he has appeared in the preschool show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse where he’s named Salty.

Mickey and the Seal (December 3, 1948)

Mickey’s only cartoon in the 80s is Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a fantastic long-form short that you’ve probably heard about (or seen me rave about in the past). Rather than revisit a short I’ve blogged about more than once, here’s another favorite from the 40s. Mickey and the Seal is quite possibly Mickey’s cutest cartoon. It’s similar to a Chip and Dale cartoon, but instead of the chipmunk duo we have a seal who Pluto is well aware of, but Mickey is oblivious to. There’s a great sequence where Mickey and the seal bathe together and if you aren’t completely charmed by the happy little seal pup then you have a heart of stone.

mickey pluto christmas tree

Oh yeah, there’s the good stuff.

The 1950s – Pluto’s Christmas Tree (November 21, 1952)

All right, I have talked about this one before and more than once, but Mickey only had four cartoons in the 1950s and two of them are on that new Blu-ray. Plus, this one is so super charming and worth watching even when it isn’t Christmas time. It is derivative of Donald Duck’s Toy Tinkers, but it once again pairs up Pluto with the duo of Chip and Dale and it just works so well.

feral mickey

Feral Mickey too scary for the masses?

The 1990s – Runaway Brain (August 11, 1995)

Some claim this is the Mickey cartoon Disney doesn’t want you to see. I’ve always been skeptical of such, but it is further reinforced by the fact that Disney scrubs this bad boy from YouTube frequently, leaving some alone that are of poor quality, while it mostly leaves the other cartoons alone. That could just be because it’s a more modern cartoon and Disney therefore feels it has more value than cartoons that are 60 years old. Whatever the case, this one is a lot of fun and it’s so 90s in style which is great since it’s the only true Mickey Mouse short from that decade. Mickey starts off the short playing video games, for crying out loud! Kelsey Grammer voices Dr. Frankenollie, and it features Mickey swapping bodies with a monstrous Pete (who features a peg-leg!) therefore leading to the character fans refer to as Feral Mickey. It makes Mickey scary, so perhaps that’s why Disney doesn’t promote this one any longer.

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Order restored at the end. Note the life of Donald.

The New Millennium! – New Shoes (April 14, 2018)

So Mickey Mouse has only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995’s Runaway Brain, and that was Get A Horse which was paired with Frozen and is on the Celebrating Mickey Blu-ray. Rather than spotlight that again, how about we go with the television/web series of Mickey cartoons that began in 2013? This series is great, and it’s a more manic, Looney Tunes/Spongebob take on Mickey and the gang that I absolutely love. Yeah, it’s not traditionally animated, but what is these days? New Shoes is one of my recent favorites from this series and it features Donald and Goofy as well. The trio swap bodies with hilarious results (Mickey becomes Goofy, Goofy becomes Donald, and Donald becomes Mickey). It’s particularly amusing to see how horrible Donald’s life is, as experienced by Goofy (who while getting beaten he sings the old Donald Duck song) while Mickey exhausts himself by trying to take advantage of Goofy’s monstrous height to help people. Donald just mostly enjoys being loved and celebrated as Mickey for a change. Just a great, funny, smart cartoon.

Well, that’s that. As I mentioned, you can find those shorts on the Walt Disney Treasures collection and some can be found elsewhere (Pluto’s Christmas Tree has been re-released numerous times as part of Christmas collections) while New Shoes is free to watch on YouTube. And a lot of those shorts can also unofficially be found there as well, though Runaway Brain might give you some trouble tracking down a good version, but it’s there as well in some form. They’re all wonderful examples of the star power, charisma, and charm of Mickey Mouse. He’s been around for 90 years now and isn’t likely going anywhere. At this rate, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll outlive us all! Now Disney, how about a restored collection of all of Mickey’s classic shorts in HD? Don’t make us wait for him to turn 100!


Dragon Ball Z Movie Wrap-up – The Rankings

teaser gokuWell I hope you’ve enjoyed the summer feature this year at The Nostalgia Spot – Dragon Ball Z Movie Monday. We’ve taken a look at all 13 original Dragon Ball Z films in chronological order, run-through their plots, dissected what they did well and not so well, and now we’re going to rank them. It should be noted that this ranking is going to be rendered obsolete in just a few short months as on the way is the first Dragon Ball Super movie:  Broly! Yes, Broly. He’s coming back for a fourth movie appearance, but this time it’s different. Those Dragon Ball Z films he was in are technically not canon. Yes, series creator Akira Toriyama designed the character of Broly and the general back story, but he was never intended to be a “real” character, so to speak. With the 14th and 15th DBZ films, things started to change. Both Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ are now canon and were adapted for Dragon Ball Super. Since Toriyama is involved with Broly, it stands to reason that this will be an all new version of the Legendary Super Saiyan and for the first time ever he’ll be an actual part of the overall Dragon Ball plot.

db super broly

Broly’s coming back, whether you like it or not.

That’s all well and good, but before we can even think about that movie we need to sort out these other 15, of which 3 feature Broly. The core 13 are what we covered this summer, but I had taken a look at the two most recent films previously and made entries about them. Even though their plots are now part of Dragon Ball Super, they were released as Dragon Ball Z films so it feels right to include them in the rankings. Hopefully the first Dragon Ball Super movie will challenge the best of these, but for now, this is what I think of the fine fifteen:

Goten urinating

Lets kick this one off properly!

15. Broly – Second Coming – It’s kind of funny the first film on my list just so happens to feature the character of Broly. If this version of Broly were returning for a fourth feature, then I would be disappointed. Broly was fine in his film debut, but his return engagements saw the warrior reduced to an even more mindless fighting machine. Broly – Second Coming also stars Trunks and Goten, and it feels like maybe they weren’t ready to anchor a feature. Gohan makes his presence felt in the film’s third act, but he can’t rescue this one. Broly – Second Coming is perhaps the most dull, with the biggest rule-breaking ending, and is thus my least favorite. It’s not without some charm, so I hesitate to call it flat-out bad, but it will be a long while before I revisit this one again.

cooler surprised

Maybe this was a bad idea.

14. Cooler’s Revenge – You will probably notice a trend amongst these bottom entries. The movies that just feel like one long fight do little to entertain me, and Cooler’s Revenge commits the sin of having Goku get taken out immediately only to sit on the sidelines for a large chunk of the film’s duration. No one wants to sit and wait for Goku to show up – not Cooler, and certainly not the fans. And the fights that do occur in this picture aren’t very engaging, but we do get some fireworks from Super Saiyan Goku and the transformed Cooler. It’s also his connection to Frieza that helps move this one past Broly – Second Coming.

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Not the best?! I don’t want to hear it!

13. Lord Slug – Similar to Cooler’s Revenge, this one also has Goku get taken out for a large portion of the film. Unlike with that film though, there’s not a great reason for that to happen. Yeah, he gets hurt a bit, but it doesn’t seem like the type of injury that should knock Goku out of commission for such a long time. Anyways, Lord Slug gets to move past Cooler because at least there’s some interesting visuals here. A lot of fun backgrounds and the enemy designs for Slug’s henchmen are interesting as well. I also think the fight between Slug and Goku is a bit better than the one with Cooler, even if it features that goofy half Super Saiyan thing from Goku. This is also a film I look at and can envision it being better than it is with just a few tweaks here and there.

Bio Broly trunks goten

Swamp Thing got nothing on Broly.

12. Bio-Broly – It seems like this film is most often cited as the worst DBZ film and I can see why, on the surface, that would be the case. It returns Broly, but in an even weirder form than before that’s somehow even more mindless. There’s no Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, or Gohan, and overall the stakes are possibly the smallest they’ve ever been. On the other hand, Goten and Trunks get another crack at being the stars and they’re more entertaining here than previously. There’s a good balance of nuanced humor with the childish brand that sometimes rears its head and we also get a good dose of both Mr. Satan and Android 18. Perhaps best of all, there’s no silly rule-breaking ending involving the dead Goku this time and in the end we get a film that’s perhaps not super engaging, but it makes up for it to some degree with humor and charm.

13 trucker hat

Trucker hats rule.

11. Super Android 13! – Another extended battle movie, but this one ups the excitement by adding yet another Super Saiyan to the mix – Future Trunks. We also get more androids, which at this point in time felt a little like overkill since we already had five in the main series, plus Cell. Still, the android villains kind of work and given how secretive Dr. Gero was it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he’d have even more waiting to awaken. It’s just too bad they all have the same general programming of needing to kill Goku. For the English dub, Funimation actually took some liberties and gave Android 13 a little personality. It wasn’t much, but it was something. The fights are generally satisfying, though the resolution kind of “meh.” More than most, this one is all about spectacle.

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Dragon Ball Z Movie 6 – The Mega Powers Explode!

10. The Return of Cooler – Cooler gets to improve upon his debut by pairing up with a super computer and gaining a shiny, new metallic body. Vegeta also gets to debut in a DBZ film as a Super Saiyan, and for the first time ever, he and Goku team-up to take on Cooler. There’s actually some semblance of a plot here and it’s not bad. There’s a little mystery, and if Funimation didn’t decide to go with such an obvious title the actual re-debut of Cooler would have come as a surprise. The film just kind of loses me in the final act. It’s no Spirit Bomb attack at least, but it is kind of odd.

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In this one, Goku fights a tree.

9. The Tree of Might – If this were a ranking of best looking Dragon Ball Z films then The Tree of Might would be a contender for the top spot. It hits the sweet spot between the very soft, round look of Dragon Ball and early Dragon Ball Z while also bringing in more definition. The characters are all muscled-up and impressive looking, the special effects mesmerizing, and the battles don’t move at a super-sonic pace. More interesting enemy designs, the debut of Icarus, and even a Giant Ape fight! The actual plot is just what holds everything back as a planet devouring tree hardly seems like an interesting adversary. And then there’s the confusing Turles and the lack of a really great fight involving him. If Goku and Turles were able to wage an all-out epic battle then that probably would have vaulted this one up the list, but instead it settles close to the mid-point of our list.

dead zone gif

Oh yes, that’s the good stuff!

8. Dead Zone – It’s rather appropriate that the debut film, Dead Zone, is right in the middle. I consider it a good measuring stick for all of the DBZ films. It has a simple, but effective plot revolving around the kidnapping of Gohan and a villain out for revenge and immortality via the Dragon Balls. That villain is Garlic Jr., who gets to follow a typical villain mold for this series in that he’s not imposing to look at, but he’s hiding a monstrous transformation. The fight choreography is top-notch and probably the best the series had. Watching Goku dodge the blade attacks of Garlic Jr’s minions is easily the film’s most fun visual. There’s also the odd drunk Gohan sequence that’s pretty amusing by itself, and we even get a pee joke. The film kind of falls apart in the final act, a common occurrence sadly for these films. We’re teased a Goku vs Piccolo fight that never gets going, and Garlic Jr. is defeated in a very anticlimactic fashion by Gohan. Basically, Gohan powering up alone pushed Garlic into the Dead Zone? I don’t know, it’s still a lot of fun though.

Bebi_Burori

Legendary Super Saiyan? More like Legendary Cry Baby.

7. Broly:  The Legendary Super Saiyan – Broly peeks on our list at number 7, which isn’t half-bad (literally). His debut film was the longest at the time totaling over 70 minutes and it utilizes its time well. It moves at a methodic pace teasing the emergence of Broly and then devotes a sizable portion of its run time to the actual fight. Where it stumbles is with its odd handling of Vegeta and, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the resolution to the actual fight with Broly. His defeat just feels cheap. I don’t know what would have worked better since they kind of wrote themselves into a hole considering how powerful Broly is, but surely something better could have been utilized. Nonetheless, it’s still fine and this is how a Broly film should function where the plot revolves around him, but doesn’t necessarily require him to do much aside from just being there. The other characters move the narrative and provide the context. Oh, and his origin is great aside from why he hates Goku. I think that aspect of his origin was supposed to be funny, but it just doesn’t fit here.

vlcsnap-00003

You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!

6. The World’s Strongest – The second DBZ film still feels a bit like an odd duck. It is somewhat rooted in the spirit of the original Dragon Ball, and bringing Master Roshi back into the fold is certainly welcomed by me. The sci-fi nature of the plot is slightly out of place for Dragon Ball Z, but less so when you consider some of what was featured in Dragon Ball. If the villainous duo of Dr. Wheelo and Dr. Kochin were given ties to the Red Ribbon Army then they would have felt right at home. Like Dead Zone, it gets a lot out of its visuals. The fight choreography is again top-notch, and the big finish with the Spirit Bomb works since it hadn’t been done before. I love the arctic location and the humor infused into it. Even the whole premise of the film, a couple of long dormant scientists mistaking Master Roshi for the strongest fighter in the world, is pretty amusing and the Metal Gear-like Dr. Wheelo is certainly an interesting opponent from a visual perspective. This is just another fun DBZ movie that moves at a brisk pace and is able to squeeze everything that’s charming about early DBZ  into it in a satisfying manner.

pudding 1

When a god asks for pudding you give him pudding!

5. Battle of Gods – The return I had no idea I cared about. Battle of Gods both resurrected Dragon Ball Z as an anime brand and launched Dragon Ball Super. It introduced the God of Destruction, Beerus, and his godly attendant Whis who have become some of my favorite characters across all of Dragon Ball. Beerus is not only an all-powerful god, but a cat. We’ve seen cat creatures before, but Beerus is able to subtly weave in cat-like behavior into his mannerisms that’s so entertaining. The film also brings together basically everyone from DBZ as far as the earthlings go, and it’s heavily reliant on comedy. So much so that it comes at the expense of action, which is where some fans seemed to be let down. That and Goku’s Super Saiyan God form was fairly underwhelming. Still, what action is present is solid and the film looks fantastic when it’s not trying to use CG effects.

bjoack group shot

Some cool guys and Yamcha.

4. Bojack Unbound – The first movie that did not try to rely on Goku, Bojack Unbound put Gohan in the spotlight in a bit of rehash of his fight with Cell and the awakening of his Super Saiyan 2 powers. It could have been a bit lame, but it’s anchored by some character development that works and the introduction of one Mr. Satan who never fails to be amusing. The entire film takes place on an island as the Z fighters have entered a tournament for riches. There’s plenty of humor to be found at the expense of both Mr. Satan and Krillin, and also plenty of action. The part of the film I liked most was the little peak at a post-death Goku Vegeta, who is essentially depressed about the loss of his rival. The film maybe could have been better if that had been its primary focus, but instead it chose to just make that a small piece. The actual villain, Bojack, is kind of boring to be honest, but we get a good series of fights out of him and his minions. It’s also fun seeing the Super Saiyan 2 moment rehashed, and the film just looks fantastic.

vegeta cries

Tears in Hell.

3. Fusion Reborn – Probably not surprising, but a film that spends quite a bit of time devoted to exploring the relationship of Goku and Vegeta is going to rank high on my list. These films often don’t go for character development, instead choosing to just capture the essence of the main characters and sticking that on-screen. For Vegeta, that typically means you just get a cocky jerk who is only fighting because he wants to be the one to defeat Goku instead of the villain of the moment. In this one, both fighters are dead, and they need to not only team-up to stop the Buu-like Janemba, but literally become one fighter via fusion. Vegeta can’t stand the thought, but Goku proves persuasive. The two seem to develop an understanding of one another and have a bit of a quiet reckoning leading up to the big moment, and it’s very rewarding and very sweet. In addition to that, the movie combines impressive visual flair with a ton of funny bits including Goten and Trunks taking on a resurrected Hitler. This one distills the qualities of the Buu Saga that I actually like into a tidy 52 minutes and it’s arguably the most “fun” of all the Dragon Ball Z movies.

goku vegeta bicker

Play nice you two.

2. Resurrection ‘F’ – The most recent film may actually be the only one more fun than Fusion Reborn and that’s because it’s very much a fan-servicey kind of movie. It brings back Frieza, the most hate-able of all of the villains, for another round. Now he’s powered-up to a new form, but so are his chief rivals Goku and Vegeta. Debuting their new Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan (Super Saiyan Blue, for short) forms, the two Saiyans are basically on equal footing for the first time since their inaugural fight way back on Earth during the Saiyan Saga. In addition to watching them pummel Frieza, we get to see the other, lesser, fighters square off against Frieza’s minions including Master Roshi! Krillin shaves his head, Gohan gets angry, it’s basically all here. Beerus and Whis also return and they’re just as amusing as before and the film’s visual style is truly stunning. This may be the best looking DBZ film so far as it dials back on the crude CG from Battle of Gods. I think I still prefer The Tree of Might’s look to this one, but it’s close. Ultimately, this one works because we get to see that jerk Frieza get bested once again, and Vegeta even gets a little revenge. It also further adds to the Goku/Vegeta dynamic in a worthwhile way, something that Dragon Ball Super will continue to explore.

tapiotrunks

This is a sweet one, right up until a child is asked to execute his buddy.

1. Wrath of the Dragon – I guess when it comes to these movies, I’m more of a “plot guy” than an “action guy.” Wrath of the Dragon doesn’t feature a ton of fighting, but it does spend a long time on the quieter things. I enjoyed the introduction of Tapion and his story, and seeing a different side of Trunks felt very rewarding. We’ve seen Goku take on all kinds of crazy beings, so it was nice for a change to just spend a lot of time looking at a character that’s mostly been underserved by both the films and the series. It gives the film a different mood. It’s a bit sad, but also endearing, and it still packs in some moments of triumph. Some of the early plot machinations are a bit silly, and the almost total absence of Vegeta felt puzzling, but Wrath of the Dragon still manages to tell the best story of all 15 films and that’s primarily why I placed it here.

In truth, the top 5 films felt pretty interchangeable for me. Bojack Unbound is really watchable because of the action pieces, while Battle of Gods feels the most dense because of all of the new lore introduced. Fusion Reborn and Resurrection ‘F’ bring a lot of humor and silliness to the table, making both very re-watchable, while Wrath of the Dragon just seemed to strike a nice balance for me. Hopefully, the upcoming Broly can match the best Dragon Ball Z put out. It’s basically guaranteed to look amazing, and I’m sure we’ll get some flashy action sequences no matter what. I’ve had fun revisiting these films. I never held a high opinion of them, but I think I had more fun with them now than I did when I was younger and a bit more cynical. They are what they are and they exist simply to entertain for 45 minutes or so (and make money) and as long as they don’t betray what the series stands for then that’s good enough for me.


Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon

wrath of the dragonJapanese Title:  Dragon Fist Explosion!! If Goku Can’t Do It, Who Will?

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1995

English Release:  September 12, 2006

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

 

We’ve finally reached the thirteenth and final film in the main Dragon Ball Z film-verse:  Wrath of the Dragon. Like our last film, Fusion Reborn, we get a title that’s at least slightly ambiguous and not just the name of the film’s villain. And unlike most of the movies, this one could actually take place during the timeline of the anime since it takes place after the events of the Buu Saga (though don’t confuse that statement for canon, since Dragon Ball Super ignores the events of this movie as it does basically all of the others). As a last hurrah, Toei produced a movie that’s very different in tone from the other 12 features. Even though the running time makes it pretty typical of the other films, it moves a lot slower with the emphasis of the film’s plot resting squarely on something seldom seen in DBZ movies:  character development. Rather than simply have some super-powered villain show up and challenge Goku, the film focuses on a new character, Tapion, and the fascination an existing character, Trunks, has with him.

The film opens with a young boy (Aaron Dismuke) in a frantic state. He’s on a darkened planet and armed with a sword. He has pointed years and a mohawk-like hairstyle and probably is not of Earth. He appears to be searching for an unseen danger, when from behind a giant foot emerges and apparently squashes the poor boy. An unsettling laugh is then heard.

Saiyamen

The heroes we need.

On Earth, the Great Saiyaman is out keeping the residents of one of Earth’s many cities safe. And he’s no longer a solo act. Great Saiyaman II, or Great Saiyawoman, is by his side in a similar costume to Saiyaman’s original look (as opposed to the bandana and sunglasses disguise) and they’re fouling a robbery. There’s some fun, atypical action in this piece as Gohan (Kyle Hebert) and Videl (Kara Edwards) play super hero, but a shadowy figure is watching and it’s pretty clear he’s going to play some sort of role in this story – and soon. At school, Gohan and Videl are a bit tired from their exploits, and also late for class. After just arriving in his class, Gohan is again summoned by city officials to prevent an old man from committing suicide. He has to excuse himself, much to the shock of his professor, once more to go deal with the situation.

saiyaman saves hoi

Not everything they do is battle tough space villains.

Gohan and Videl arrive in costume to see the old man dangling from a ledge. Gohan springs into action and rescues the little old man, who introduces himself as Hoi (Troy Baker). The cloaked, possibly alien, character is the same who had been spying on the two earlier. He tells the two about a legendary hero named Tapion (Jason Liebrecht) who has been sealed away in a music box that Hoi just so happens to have in his possession. He warns Gohan that the Earth will soon have need of this Tapion, and that they need to free him from the music box in order to secure his aid. Videl seems suspicious of the old man, who really looks the part of a villain, but Gohan falls for it – he is his father’s son, after all. Unfortunately, even Gohan’s mighty strength can’t turn the crank on the music box and they’re forced to go elsewhere for help.

hoi

That is a face that can be trusted.

Hoi encourages them to utilize the power of the Dragon Balls to free Tapion, so Gohan takes the box to Bulma’s (Tiffany Volmer). Goku (Sean Schemmel), Goten (Edwards), and Trunks (Laura Bailey) are there as well and even Goku can’t get the music box handle to budge. He’s game though for a Dragon Ball hunt, and the group does just that summoning Shenron (Christopher Sabat) in short order. He’s more than capable of freeing Tapion from the music box, but once released they soon find out that Tapion did not wish to be free.

tapion

The Legendary Hero Tapion.

Tapion, a warrior who looks much like the child from the beginning of the film only an adult, is angered to see Hoi and dismayed to see the music box shattered as a result of Shenron freeing him. Hoi flees, and Tapion is left with the others. Trunks takes an almost immediate interest in the strange, sword-wielding warrior from another world, only Tapion is not interested in idle chit-chat. He too retreats to a remote area near Capsule Corp in what looks to be an abandoned hangar of some kind. Trunks and Goten try and visit him, often with food, but Tapion refuses to engage the children at all.

trunks and goten

Even though he’s kind of a jerk, Trunks and Goten think Tapion is pretty cool.

It’s clear at this point that Tapion was sealed away for a reason, and that becomes even more clear when a strange Kaiju-like monster appears in nearby West City. Gohan and Videl confront the being, and are shocked to see it’s basically just a pair of massive, bug-like legs with no torso or upper body to speak of. They’re unable to do much of anything to the creature, but Tapion appears. Armed with an ocarina, he plays a haunting melody on the instrument which causes the monster to vanish. Gohan and Videl are both astonished and more than a little confused to see Tapion is connected to this monster in some form.

Tapion_and_minotia

Tapion and his little brother say good bye.

Back at Tapion’s hideout, Trunks once again attempts to bond with the sullen warrior and is again rebuffed. Hoi shows up though and attempts to steal Tapion’s ocarina when he briefly slips into sleep. Trunks is able to get the ocarina from him, and when Hoi attempts to coerce Trunks into giving it back to him, he instead returns it to Tapion. Hoi flees, but after the gesture Tapion is suddenly interested in conversing with the young Saiyan. It’s clear that Trunks is simply seeking out an older brother figure, likely a little jealous of what his good friend Goten has with Gohan, and he’s overjoyed that Tapion is finally speaking with him. He’s able to convince Tapion to join him at his home, and the warrior finally relents.

Tapion_and_bulma

Bulma just making sure this guy who has taken a liking to her kid checks out.

At Capsule Corp, Tapion visits with Trunks and puts him to bed. Following that, he encounters Bulma in the hallway and she invites him to sit down for a talk, since she knows her son has taken quite a liking to the hero. It’s at the dinner table that Tapion tells his story to Bulma. The monster Gohan confronted is named Hirudegarn (Robert McCollum). Long ago on Tapion’s homeworld, he and his people were able to defeat Hirudegarn following his creaton by a group of evil black magicians. Hirudegarn could not be destroyed though, so following his defeat his essence was split in two by a powerful sword with one half being sealed away inside Tapion and the other in his younger brother, Minotia. To prevent the monster from re-appearing, Tapion and Minotia were locked away inside the magic music boxes never to be awakened and jettisoned to opposite ends of the galaxy. The lower half of the monster was sealed inside Minotia, and with that appearing in West City Tapion fears his brother is no more. The upper half of the being is inside Tapion, and he can’t afford to fall asleep or lose his magical ocarina and sword or else the upper half of the beast could escape. After hearing all of this, Bulma decides to create a special room based on the design of Tapion’s music box in hopes that it can accomplish the same goal and allow the poor guy to finally get some sleep.

Hirudegarn_better

Look who got put back together.

As Hirudegarn’s lower half reappears, Tapion attempts to sleep inside the chamber Bulma was able to create (very quickly). Nightmares overwhelm him though which result in him accidentally destroyed the chamber. Goku and the others arrive the next morning and are checking out the damage, when Tapion reappears with a request. He wants them to kill him, hoping that by doing so the half of Hirudegarn inside of him will die too. The others are understandably reluctant to do so, but before Tapion can convince him Hirudegarn and Hoi show up. Tapion is unable to play the melody that controls Hirudegarn in time and the presence of the monster’s lower half causes the release of the upper half from Tapion’s body. Now fully formed, Hirudegarn is a true monstrosity.

vegeta vs hiru

Vegeta gettin in his one shot.

Even though he’s massive and not particularly fast, Goku, Goten, and Gohan are unable to land any substantial blows on Hirudegarn due to his ability to teleport. The battle all but ruins Bulma’s home as the battle spills into the city. When it looks like the monster is about to squeeze the life out of Gohan, Vegeta finally makes his first appearance of the film to save the day. He’s a little irritated at losing his house to the monster and lets him know, but he’s unable to really do anything about it. Hirudegarn knocks him into an office building and unleashes a massive blast in Vegeta’s direction. Vegeta is forced to expend all of his energy corralling the blast with a barrier to spare the inhabitants of the building. Exhausted, he collapses, and as quickly as he entered the picture he has now departed.

bug hirudegarn

Meet the new Hirudegarn, better than the old?

Seeing the others having no success against Hirudegarn, Trunks and Goten decide to fuse and unleash Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks. The cocky fused persona of the two Saiyan children has some nifty attacks, and for a moment it looks like Hirudegarn has been defeated. Since this is a Dragon Ball Z movie though, we know the villain most likely still has a trump card to play. His body hardens and cracks and soon the outer carapace shatters. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a new version of Hirudegarn emerges. Only unlike a butterfly, this thing is quite ugly and terrifying to look at (though arguably not as scary as the first form with its skull-like head). He thrashes Gotenks, causing the being to split back into Trunks and Goten. Gohan and Videl are soon taken out, and it comes down to Goku.

DBZ Wrath of the Dragon Tapion

Don’t ask a kid to kill you, man, just do it yourself.

As even Goku finds it hard to keep up with Hirudegarn, Tapion emerges. He plays his ocarina and the melody causes Hirudegarn to once more become sealed inside of him. With the beast now gone, Tapion turns to Trunks and begs him to use his magic sword to kill him. Trunks is taken aback by the request and struggles to come to terms with it. Tapion pleads with him, and when it starts to look like Trunks just might do it, Hirudegarn breaks free. Worse, the ocarina is destroyed in the process and Hoi emerges once again. He taunts Tapion for his failure to contain the beast, but his victory is short-lived as Hirudegarn crushes him thus at least destroying the last of the evil wizards who helped create him.

dragon fist

That’s one way to kill a giant bug.

With the ocarina now gone, the only thing left is to confront Hirudegarn with raw power. Goku powers up to his Super Saiyan 3 form and begins to battle it out with the monster. Trunks, not content to sit on the sidelines, charges in with Tapion’s blade and manages to slice off the tail of Hirudegarn. Goku orders Trunks to stand down as he prepares to unleash his latest technique. With an uppercut pose and a mighty yell, Goku unleashes his Super Dragon Fist which causes a golden Shenron to form around him. The dragon unloads on Hirudegarn wrapping around him, constricting him and ultimately exploding as Goku is left in a dramatic “shoryuken” pose.

goku pose

Nothing like a good victory pose.

With the monster finally defeated, all that’s left is for Tapion to go home. An unspecified amount of time passes, and Tapion is set to leave in Bulma’s time machine. It looks identical to the one Future Trunks used in the main series, and it’s assumed I suppose that Tapion is going to search for his little brother. Before he can leave though, he has to say goodbye to his surrogate little brother, Trunks. The young Saiyan is sad to see the hero leave, but he’s given Tapion’s sword as a parting gift. As the credits role, clips and images of Trunks, including Future Trunks armed with a similar sword, are shown with the obvious implication being this is how Trunks came to be a swordsman.

tapion goodbye

Time to say good bye. What’s that wink imply, Bulma?

Wrath of the Dragon Fist is an interesting Dragon Ball Z movie by itself, but also kind of an odd way to say good-bye to the series. With it being the last, it’s somewhat surprising that there isn’t more emphasis on getting the whole gang together, but aside from a cook-out scene early in the film, most of the regulars are no-shows. The defeat of Hirudegarn is a neat visual spectacle, but also really weird since we’ve never seen Goku do anything even remotely like that before. It’s kind of equally weird that it’s Goku at all who takes down the monster since he plays such a minor role in the film. It would have been better to just go all-in on the Trunks theme and have him take out Hirudegarn, but at least he got to cut off the beast’s tail. I guess they just wanted to give Goku a win in his Super Saiyan 3 form since that power-up has so few of them.

trunks with sword

Trunks gets a pretty swell parting gift. That thing is as big as him.

Rather than focus on a big ensemble story or another Goku piece, Toei and screen-writer Takao Koyama (who authored every one of these movies) decided to do a deep dive into Trunks and try and unite this version of the character with the Future Trunks we had seen earlier in the Androids Saga. It’s a solid premise for a movie and it’s nice to see a film choose to focus on exploring a character as opposed to just creating some big, bad, villain of the week. Trunks and his desire to form a bond with someone is easy to understand. He’s an only child and probably home-schooled. He’s had an absentee father for most of his childhood, and his only friend is a country boy named Goten who comes from a family in which he’s the little brother to Gohan. Trunks just wants a brother of his own, and maybe since Vegeta was such a crummy dad, he also seeks a role model too. His scenes with Tapion are cute, and it’s heart-breaking to see Trunks’ reaction to Tapion requesting he kill him. Thankfully, he didn’t have to go through with it as that would have been one Hell of a damaging episode for the poor kid.

tapion flute

Tapion proves to be a rather fine addition to the ensemble.

As far as our newcomer is concerned, Tapion is handled quite well. He has a simple, easy to understand back story that makes him a sympathetic figure. He projects a mysterious aura and also possesses a unique look for the series. Some probably look at an elf-like, sword wielding, ocarina playing, hero and think Link from The Legend of Zelda, but this movie predates Ocarina of Time and Tapion doesn’t look that close to the Link that existed prior to that. Since they do look so similar it’s possible they share a common source of inspiration, but what that may be I’m not certain. Hoi and his evil wizards (who are all dead) is kind of lame. He’s a blatantly obvious villain so it’s kind of frustrating to see him scheme his way to releasing Tapion, but the movie would be rather boring if he wasn’t successful. The only motivation he’s given is that he and the other wizards are genocidal monsters that want to destroy anything that isn’t them. Hirudegarn himself is just a mindless monster. Even though he’s as one-dimensional as it gets, he still manages to be interesting since we haven’t seen Goku and company take on such a massive enemy in a long time. It’s kind of like “What if Goku took on Godzilla?”

vegeta wrath of dragon

There apparently wasn’t enough room for Vegeta in this one.

My one major piece of lingering criticism of Wrath of the Dragon rests with its use of Vegeta. Perhaps because Fusion Reborn spent so much time with he and Goku exploring their relationship and rivalry, Koyama decided to avoid the Saiyan Prince here. I would have liked to see more of him though since so much of the movie takes place at his house. It’s just weird for him to not be seen until he makes his dramatic entrance. This was also the first chance to pair up Trunks and Vegeta in a movie, and since this follows Vegeta’s change of heart following the events of the Buu Saga, it would have been interesting to see how their relationship has changed. Come Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta is basically back to his prickly self, but it would have been interesting to juxtapose he and Tapion. Would it have made the film better if we saw a jealous Vegeta who feels threatened by Tapion’s presence? Perhaps, and perhaps not. It just feels like the movie had room to do something with Vegeta, and instead it reduced him to a cameo.

kid trunks and tapion

There’s a sweetness to be found in this one seldom seen in DBZ movies.

Aside from that piece of criticism, I really have nothing else to say about the movie that would be considered bad. Wrath of the Dragon is very different for a Dragon Ball Z movie. It’s a little light on action and humor and instead more procedural. It relishes in the quiet moments shared mostly between Trunks and Tapion, but also some other small scenes as well. Its emphasis on story and character make it a more rewarding and less disposable experience. We all like our flash and pizazz when it comes to Dragon Ball Z, but it’s nice to see one of the movies treat these characters more as actual characters as opposed to characters from a fighting video game. It’s because of that I feel Wrath of the Dragon is one of the best movies to come from Dragon Ball Z. It can still impress you with its excellent visuals and make you laugh at a few moments, and it may even make you tear-up a little. It’s so interesting from a narrative standpoint that I didn’t even expound on how wonderful the film looks. This is one of the best looking things the series has ever produced. Dragon Ball Z picked a great way to bow out, and it’s nice to know over 20 years later that it wouldn’t be the end for these characters as we knew them.