If like me, you're less than enthusiastic about Hollywood's forthcoming Dragonball film (even if it does feature action icon Chow Yun-Fat), lift your spirits with one of Toei's original anime movies. Known in Japan as Sleeping Beauty in the Magic Castle, this is number two in a whopping seventeen Dragonball movies released while the television series was still running. Released twice yearly for school holidays, they played triple-bills usually accompanied by a live-action superhero film and a Doraemon or Sailor Moon cartoon.
A surprisingly creepy intro shows oily, black demons screeching and howling across a hellish, red landscape. This is the Devil's Hand, where for many years Count Lucifer has imprisoned a sleeping princess under his magic spell. Happy go lucky Son Goku is our boy hero, flying on his magic cloud across sunnier climbs. Near indestructible with mystical kung fu powers, Goku is the most powerful character in anime, stronger than Superman, able to blow up a planet. Nonetheless, his great spirit and generous heart were just as appealing to children and helped make the series such an enduring classic.
Returning to study martial arts with turtle sensei Kamesennin, Goku is joined by new classmate, pint-sized, cue-ball Kirririn, who bribes the reluctant old lech with a stack of porno magazines. Kamesennin sends them to rescue the sleeping princess, ostensibly to test their courage and valour, but also because he hopes to score with a hot babe. Little do they know that schizoid adventurer-minx, Lunch - who switches from psychotic blonde to sweet-natured brunette every time she sneezes - is also after the princess and has a better idea of who 'she' really is. Meanwhile, Goku's concerned friends: gadget laden rich girl Bulma; Yamcha the handsome highwayman; his shapeshifting cat Pooal; and Oolong the pig also follow the trail, only to wind up Count Lucifer's prisoners. Boy crazy Bulma lets him sweet talk her onto his sacrificial altar, while our heroes face hordes of lumpy, machinegun-toting demons. Just when things look bad, something weird happens when Goku spies the full moon.
The movie struggles to find room for all its zany characters and isn't the best place for newcomers to start. Nonetheless it delivers as a fast paced, witty send-up of horror movies and crams an astonishing array of in-joke nods to Dracula (1930), Frankenstein (1931), Chinese mythology, King Kong (1933), Warner Bros. cartoons and The Omen (1976). Lively animation propels the high-flying chases and exhilarating slapstick fu, while the design work on Lucifer's lair ("A beautiful place for a nightmare" gulps Kirririn) is both evocative and witty: stone gargoyles, seeping green lava, leering ghouls and a villain who watches old monster movies on TV. Plus we have a wild finale with a giant, dragon-shaped energy cannon set to blow up the sun; Goku channelling one of his trademark, earth-shattering chi blasts, and Lucifer forecasting world domination with: "Soon there will be a monster on every cereal box!"