"Naruto," the story of ninja-in-training and self-proclaimed knucklehead Naruto Uzumaki, is one of the most popular manga and anime franchises of the last decade, with tens of millions of books sold, more than 400 TV episodes and eight theatrical features. The ninth, "Naruto the Movie: Road to Ninja," is more visually spectacular and emotionally resonant than the previous films.
When he returns to his home from a mission, Naruto realizes how lonely he is without a family. As he and his friend Sakura walk through the Hidden Leaf Village, arch-villain Madara uses supernatural techniques to transport them to an alternate reality. Their village looks the same, but all their friends display opposite personalities: Kiba, who usually shares a magical bond with his dog Akamaru, wants a cat.
Naruto discovers that his parents are alive in this world but soon realizes that as much as he enjoys their affection, this couple is only a pallid imitation of his heroic mother and father, who sacrificed their lives to save the village. As their awareness of the evil illusions increases, Naruto and Sakura challenge Madara's agents in an over-the-top-battle that pits the eclipsing powerful nine-tailed fox demon imprisoned in Naruto's body against an equally formidable clone. In the quest for victory, Naruto finds inspiration in his real parents' courage.
"Naruto" owes much of its popularity to a winning mixture of magical ninja techniques, fights, slapstick comedy and friendship. As directed by Hayato Date, "Road to Ninja" provides all the familiar elements and just enough sentiment to delight the legions of Naruto fans.
"Naruto the Movie: Road to Ninja."
MPAA rating: None; suitable for ages 9 and older.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Royal, West L.A.; Downtown Independent, L.A.; Reading's Cal Oaks 17, Murrieta.