3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2012 (in Japan)

Naruto and Sakura are targeted by Madara and thrown into an alternate reality where things are a little off. Their friends have different personalities; and Naruto’s parents are alive, while Sakura’s are the ones who fell heroically in battle long ago.

The film works pretty well as a standalone story. Don’t expect any development of the primary plot, but it does shed some light on Naruto’s past and recalls the parents he never knew.

ROAD TO NINJA features the usual ninja battles and light humour you would expect from the franchise, but there’s more of an emotional element with this installment. Sakura’s annoyance with her family was believable; the writers might have done too realistic a job in the depiction of her parents’ behaviour. And just try not to cry during a flashback scene in which Naruto’s mother Kushina speaks to her infant son for the last time.

I wasn’t as bothered by Sakura’s portrayal as I usually am. She seemed a little less useless, as portions of the film were actually told from her point of view. Unfortunately, she was still called upon to play the role of damsel in distress.

The screening I saw was English-dubbed, which was fine, since I’m already familiar with the voices from watching the original series on YTV years ago. It’s an excellent dub overall. It’s obvious they took a great deal of care with the pronunciation of Japanese names.