Taro: The Dragon Boy (US - DVD R1)
Gabe checks out the new release of this classic Japanese animated feature film
Taro is a lug of a boy, wasting time, sleeping late, and eating more than his fair share of food. He spends his waking hours playing in the forest with his animal friends, teaching them the proper way to sumo wrestle and sharing his meals. When Taro bests a drunken wizard in a sumo match, he is bestowed with a magical potion, granting him the strength of one hundred men. This power will only work when Taro is helping others, forcing the once selfish boy to look out for the less fortunate.
Soon after his bestowment, Taro learns from his grandmother that his mother was transformed into a dragon just before he was born. He embarks on an epic journey to find her, assisting townsfolk, animals, mystic creatures, and even demons on his quest. Can Taro find his dragon mother? Will he learn his place in the world? Is there perhaps a moral here?
According to the press release and friends of mine, Taro: The Dragon Boy was once a mainstay of American children's television. I hadn't heard of it until now, but it is apparently well loved the world over. I'm not exactly what you'd call a connoisseur of Japanese animation, but I know what I like, and I kind of liked this.
The film is very dated, and I've a feeling that children today would be bored by its leisurely pace. There is a very obvious comparison to be made to the works of Miyazaki, but somehow Taro: The Dragon Boy doesn't quite encompass the utter wonderment and charm found in those films. This isn't to say the film isn't wondrous and charming in its own way, it's just that Miyazaki is a hard name to be compared to. The story is based on Japanese folklore, and I am reminded that as a child I very much loved these kinds of stories, perhaps I've grown out of them (which is really a shame).
The question here isn't really so much related to how much I enjoyed the film, but rather how much kids today would. I worked at various daycares for several years, and as a film lover I'd try to instil my tastes in the children. Usually they were bored by my selections, including the original Star Wars. This leads me back to my original assumption, if Star Wars was too slow for the kids, Taro: The Dragon Boy wouldn't be much better off—though the short running time is probably a plus.
So perhaps this release is intended more for adults and collectors that appreciate the fine art of animation. If that's the case, while then I suppose we shouldn't care what the whippersnappers think. Artistically, the film has a rather original look. It's undoubtedly a work of Japanese animation specifically, but isn't a textbook example either. The use of the widescreen frame is lovely, something missing from even classic animation. Action isn't necessarily the only real unfortunate aspect of the particular style is the lack of camera movement, and the film was made recently enough that such innovation shouldn't be a luxury.
In the end, I hate to admit that perhaps I was just the wrong audience for this specific title. I'm sure that fans of the genre will be overjoyed in the same way someone like me could be overjoyed with the release of some obscure Italian horror flick. Does the film have the capacity to excite non-genre fans? To a degree, yes, but I didn't think the film was magical enough to blow my mind. I should probably warn the up tight parents out there about the film's casual nudity, but I'd rather they figured that one out for themselves.
As I stated in my review, I can't imagine watching Taro: The Dragon Boy in pan-and-scan. The majority of children's cartoons are usually produced in a standard TV size friendly frame, so that the kiddies don't have to question the ‘black-bars’. Even the most visually intense animated features don't usually utilize the wide-screen process, only The Iron Giant comes to mind, off the top of my head.
Though the box information claims the film framed at about 2.35:1, I'm estimating its actual framing to be closer to 2.20:1. It's wide, but not that wide. The image has been anamorphically enhanced and is, for the most part, very satisfying. Film based artefacts are omnipresent, as is grain, and unfortunately the bright and colourful nature of the animation accentuates these. Regardless, the colours are very satisfying, and are bright without too much bleeding. Another satisfying transfer from the relatively young Discotek Media, who, as in their release of Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs were probably not dealing with the best of materials.
Taro: The Dragon Boy gets by with two serviceable mono tracks, one in the original Japanese, and the other in English. The differences between the two tracks are pretty astronomical, as dialogue is altered, and entire musical numbers are erased. The English track is slightly louder than the Japanese one, and both tracks become distorted when characters or music hits a certain volume level. As with the video, I'm sure Discotek didn't have the most pristine tracks to work with, and though both tracks are a bit on the muddled side, I don't for see to many fan complaints in the future.
I'd like to see Discotek improve a smidgen in the extras field. Their current releases are interesting and varying, and they seem to be doing well enough with A/V remastering, but they don't seem to have the connections yet to get interviews and information. I’d have loved to see some kind of retrospective on Taro: The Dragon Boy, seeing that I really know little about it. The threadbare special features are limited to a few trailers, one for the feature presentation, and the other for another Discotek anime release, Animal Treasure Island.
Though I was regrettably not the target audience for this particular disc, I recognize its value to collectors and animation enthusiasts. The anamorphic transfer and mono soundtracks have a few age issues, but nothing too distracting. I only wish I’d been supplied with a little more information about the history of the film.
Visit Discotek Media's website here for more information.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 24th January 2006
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English, Doly Digital Mono Japanese
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kirio Urayama
Length: 75 minutes
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