Must See Movie: Taro The Dragon Boy

Screenshot from Taro the Dragon Boy (1979)

On a whim, I decided to rent Taro the Dragon Boy from Netflix, not sure what to expect.  The last thing I expected was that a cartoon aimed at young audiences would become one of my favorite films, but that’s exactly what happened!  I’m not even a huge fan of anime.

Taro the Dragon Boy is a movie I wish I had found when I was much younger.  Growing up in America, I was exposed to very little Asian culture and tradition, despite how half of my family members are of Asian descent.  Back then, cartoons were mostly white children playing; I think since then cartoons have been better at including diversity in recent years, but there’s still far to go.  Taro the Dragon Boy is an entertaining film that also contains a lot of content related to Asian cultural heritage and traditions.

First off, the backgrounds are beautifully and painstakingly rendered in the style of ancient Japanese prints.  I always love to see painted backgrounds in cartoons, everything from Tom and Jerry to Ponyo.  The backgrounds for Taro The Dragon Boy are awe-inspiring and arresting.

The story incorporates many aspects of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs such as benevolent gods and greedy demons, as well as the self-determination that comes from being a Zen warrior, exemplified by Taro.  Beyond that, there’s the universal theme of sharing, that plays a big role in the action.

Taro

The story is about a layabout orphaned boy named Taro who is raised by his grandmother.  One day while playing with animals in the woods, Taro meets a Tengu (Japanese mythological figure) who grants Taro the gift of amazing strength, but it only works if he uses it to help others.  With his new powers, Taro says goodbye to his grandmother and his village then launches out to find his mother who was mysteriously turned into a dragon shortly before Taro was born.

On his quest, Taro meets two demons, one of which is actually not that bad, and comes across a town where the people are starving.  He decides to put his quest on hiatus to help the people of this town.  On several occasions he stops his quest to help others, which is a big reason why I say this is a beautiful film, and a good one for children.

The good demon

I wouldn’t say it’s too preachy either.  Entertainment’s a large factor here.  There’s a handful of catchy songs, a scene where Taro rides a dragon, and a fun scene where Taro wrestles a bear.

screenshot from Taro the Dragon Boy

A lot of the reviews I read online said that Taro the Dragon Boy was one of the reviewer’s favorite film when they were 10 or 11.  It’s one of my favorites now.  Here’s the one catch, there is brief nudity in the movie, something that might irk some parents (on Netflix, one parent gave the movie 1 star just for that reason).  The nudity is tasteful though and not explicit or exploitive.

I’d recommend renting Taro the Dragon Boy on DVD because the disc offers the Japanese original and the English dubbed version.  I know most kids won’t want to read subtitles.  Unlike a lot of other anime movies, the English dub is well done, and the songs in particular translate well into English.

If you’ve watched Taro the Dragon Boy, what was your opinion of it?

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