This is the third Dragonball movie and remains one of the best. Magical alien monkey-boy Son Goku and his pint-sized, bald buddy Krilyn are studying kung fu under their wise, turtle sensei Kamesennin. Jaunty J-pop plays over the opening credits as we watch them leap mountains, wrestle bears, and flee rolling boulders in training scenes meant to recall Jackie Chan in Drunken Master (1978), a major influence on Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama. Having completed their training, Master Kamesennin decides to enter the kids in an intergalactic martial arts tournament held in the Imperial City. Little do they know that soldiers are terrorizing local citizens, in search of their emperor's missing wife. Boy Emperor Chao Tsu is plagued by bad dreams foretelling the end of his reign. His shifty ministers, Master Shin and General Tao (so tough he can kill a man with his tongue) suggest they locate the seven mystical dragon balls and wish his wife back home safely.
Also searching for the dragon balls aboard their fabulous flying saucer are Goku's friends: Bulma the lovely gadget-girl, boyfriend Yamcha, and shapeshifting animals Oolong the pig and Pooal the cat. They're quickly drawn into a fierce dogfight with the imperial air force. Matters are further complicated when a dragon ball is found in the possession of a Native American warrior and his little son, Bupa. Goku saves them from an android army, but discovers the tournament is just a cover-up for a coup d'etat against Chao Tsu. Before he can act, the boy emperor is betrayed by a close friend. Outmanoeuvred by General Tao, Goku finds help in faraway Penguin Village, in the unlikely form of Arale the super-strong, little robot girl.
Known in Japan as Magical Mystery Adventure, this features the most intricate and compelling story of all the Dragonball movies. It squeezes a remarkable amount of action, intrigue and pathos into the tight running time of forty-five minutes, plus several great gags. Most memorable is probably the scene where Bulma and Lunch (the sharp-shooting schizophrenic who switches from homicidal blonde to sweet-natured brunette) pretend to be nuns and fleece a number of local pilgrims. The playful sex comedy antics are present with Kamesennin, who is as tough as Sonny Chiba and randy as Sid James, forever trying to cop a feel off the next curvaceous cutie who happens by. However, anime fans remember this movie for Son Goku's history-making encounter with the stars of Toriyama's other hit series: Doctor Slump (1981), with Arale teaming up to knock seven bells out of nasty General Tao and a quick cameo from the title character.
Such surreal non-sequitors are typical of Dragonball, as when a super-punch knocks Goku flying only for him to land in a floating city, where a fluffy, white talking cat revives him with a magic bean and teaches him a new kung fu move. Whoa. This stuff is better than crack. Amidst the strangeness, the story proves quite moving, with tragic deaths and heroic self-sacrifice. Friendship and generosity have always been major themes within the Dragonball universe, something that was sadly lost once the series morphed into Dragonball Z (1989) and subsequent movies degenerated into extended videogame bouts. Make sure you keep watching throughout the J-rocking end credits since dragon god Shen Long provides the happy ending.