A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lupin III: The First is a CG anime adventure about iconic character/master thief Arsene Lupin III (voiced by Tony Oliver). Part historical fiction and part cartoon, the movie is light and playful in tone. While there are some sudden moments of brutality, all of the violence is cartoonish. Expect lots of fighting (hand-to-hand combat, knockouts), vehicle chases/crashes, characters getting tied up, threats of torture, and people getting thrown from a plane. Characters also readily pull out machine guns, pistols, and swords, and there are a handful of deaths, including Nazis shooting an elderly man in the first five minutes of the film. A depiction of an old and fake Hitler. One character occasionally has an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Language is infrequent -- there's exactly one "ass" and one "hell." A character makes an inappropriate sexual comment ("perhaps I can pay you back with my body"), and there's one instance of a tied-up woman seducing a guard in order to knock him out, as well as a moment of implied nudity.
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What's the story?
LUPIN III: THE FIRST begins in 1940s Germany with the murder of world-renowned archeologist Professor Bresson. Before he dies, he hides the two keys to his mysterious golden journal. Himmler's propaganda group, the Ahnenerbe, plots to steal the journal. As it eventually makes its way to a museum in modern-day Paris, where it's unveiled as a new exhibition, master thief Arsene Lupin III (voiced by Tony Oliver) arrives and tells the police of his intention to steal the journal. But Laetitia (Laurie Hymes), the heroine to be saved this time around, also wants the journal and steals it for her adoptive Nazi grandfather, Professor Lambert (J. David Brimmer), and his boss, Gerald (Paul Guyet). Lambert reveals that he only chose to care for Laetitia because he knew she had the proverbial key to unlocking her biological grandfather's (Professor Bresson) journal. Feeling betrayed and now realizing who her "real" grandfather is, Laetitia admonishes Lambert. Still too late to prevent the Nazis from using the journal to find and unleash a powerfully destructive weapon that creates miniature black holes, will Lupin, his friends, and Laetitia overcome the Nazis and destroy the weapon? Is humanity forever unready for that kind of power?
Is it any good?
This modern take on Lupin the Third is shallow fun (think Indiana Jones + Sherlock Holmes) but features a stereotypical cast of misfits who reinforce gender norms. Of course, most of these characters were originally conceived decades ago -- but, still, updates to character designs might have elevated this pop quiz of an anime. The original Lupin III appeared in a 1967 Manga series by Monkey Punch (the pen name for Kazuhiko Katō). Over the decades since, many iterations of Lupin III have entertained fans in print, TV series, and animated movies. Lupin III: The First is the brand's first foray into CGI, delivering action and new character stylizations with visual panache. The move to computer generated animation does make Lupin, the cast, and Europe far more cartoony than realistic. While the plot is standard action-adventure fare, it's delivered gleefully and quickly. There are Nazis to fight, a plan of world domination to halt, and a powerful unknown technology to destroy, but the biggest drama involves Laetitia discovering who her "real" family is. The film privileges biological family, situating Laetitia’s adoptive grandfather as evil and her biological grandfather as good. Thus, her "real" family is who she truly "is," which is a popular norm that many adoptive families encounter and must find ways to reconcile or explain.
This take also sees Lupin appear smoother, younger, and without his typical cigarette or alcoholic drink. Lupin's friends, however, take up their already well-established roles -- though they also feel somewhat flat. They don't get any proper introduction or explication, easily appear when Lupin is in a jam, and just as easily disappear when Lupin needs the narrative to move forward. They aren't fully worked into the plot. Some fans of the franchise might feel annoyed at this lack of exposition for these well-known friends. To newcomers, they may serve as evidence that Lupin isn't a selfish idiot (which is the first impression that he gives) and actually has friends who care for him. Lupin may also first come across as snarky and selfish, but midway through, his goodness and playfulness feel more comfortable and his bravery seems less brash. He's like a mix of Robin Hood and Spike from Cowboy Bebop (even though the latter was published after the original Lupin III Manga).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about animation styles and the difference between CG anime and conventional anime. Did you like the action scenes in Lupin III: The First better because of the computer graphics? How about the characters' facial expressivity? Would you have preferred the use of older animation techniques?
How did Lupin comes across as a hero? Is he likeable despite his profession? Do you consider him a role model? Why, or why not?
How did the movie's violence and the untimely ends of some of the characters strengthen or diminish the film? Were you ever scared for the heroes?
How could filmmakers have made the women characters more realistic and less stereotypical? What would you have changed, and how might those changes affect the story?
Pairing this with Hayao Miyazaki's (of Studio Ghibli fame) Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, how do the depictions of Lupin differ? In what ways might have time changed the perception of a character like Lupin? His friends?
- In theaters: October 23, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: January 12, 2021
- Cast: Laurie Hymes, Tony Oliver, Paul Guyet, Doug Erholtz
- Director: Takashi Yamazaki
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: January 12, 2021
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