Legend of the Millennium Dragon (2011)
Champion your destiny.
I like anime. It doesn't always crop up in movies though, as I feel the vast majority of it is actually pretty well serial based as opposed to movie based. That being said, with a title like Legend of the Millennium Dragon, I couldn't resist. Dragons, and legends? How could it go wrong? Well, we'll just need to find out if its a legendary experience or just one of those movies that drag on.
Feudal Japan is a dangerous place. Oni (monsters) are roaming around attacking people, and seem to be doing quite a good number on the soldiers trying to hold them off. For every small victory, the Oni raise a new attack to counter it, and of the entire human forces it seems that only one man can just shrug them off like it's nothing. It would seem he has a plan to deal with these Oni once and for all however, as he mentions seeking another time in which to cease this Oni menace. Enter our main character - a young kid, pretty nice guy who apologizes to others and picks up messes he makes. As he's enjoying a sandwich over on some steps, something emerges from the sky - you guessed it, an Oni - and starts chasing after him.
In his pursuit of safety, he finally finds himself at a temple. Inside, he meets a monk, who explains to him that he was (in fact) chased by an Oni. The whole story gets a little crazy as the images on the wall start to swirl around him, and next thing we know our child hero wakens in a different room. Unfortunately for him, the room isn't the only thing that's changed - he's now back in the past. This is when the main plot is laid through some dialogue exposition - the Oni are trying to kill all the humans, and the humans need the chosen one (the kid) to awaken the great dragon to defeat the Oni. Some character building happens, and then the humans are interrupted by an Oni attack, during which the hero summons the dragon and ends up flying off after the battle is over.
It's at this point that the story switches over to the Oni side of things, although still through the main character's eyes. Turn's out, the Oni aren't really evil demons, they are just people with really fancy battle masks. Turns out, the Oni are just trying to protect the balance and showing respect to nature, whereas the everyday humans are going about stripping the environment down to build up their cities and the likes. Much like the others, the Oni also wish to have the chosen hero help them defend their side of thoughts. All of this is a bit hard for the main character to chew, and it's gonna take some rather decisive flashbacks and finding of oneself for the hero to really decide what's the right call.
In the art department, things are absolutely gorgeous. Backgrounds often looks as though they belong in paintings rather than an animated show, and the Oni specifically have interesting shadowy designs with a variety of "scary" masks. Humans are also well animated, but don't quite share the same variety of detail that can be found in the diverse selection of Oni (some of whom show up as giant spiders or rock monsters). There is a little bit of child-hero action going on, meaning there's a selection of warrior types who are looking a little out-of-place when alongside the normal adult fighters (and invariably better fighters than their adult counterparts).
English dubs are available, but for this occasion I went with the subtitles (primarily due to laziness of not wanting to bother switching them over). The voice actors have done a fine job, and although I don't understand Japanese to pick out the specifics, it seems all as though it's appropriate. The rest of the audio comes off with some detail as well - such as differences between shoed feet on wood and socked feet. The soundtrack also goes to serve the purpose of helping what is on screen - be it a bit of exploratory majesty, or helping provide support to conflicts.
The main thing outside of the visuals here is gonna be the character journey for the main character. It's very much a finding-oneself sort of story, and in such a bunch of morals could be garnered. Doing the right thing and standing up for what's right is probably the most front and center, but there's also a bit of being understanding in there as well. In a way (a very loose way), it's a bit reminiscent of Neverending Story, where a kid goes on an adventure (that includes a big dragon that flies) and ends up finding the value of his own worth.
It's probably worth a watch for the family animated crowd, as long as they don't mind a bit of violence (fighting crops up throughout). Morals are pretty well handled, and the general art designs is at times amazing. It certainly has that adventures feel, even if it wasn't exactly what I was thinking I was going into, and ends up being pretty enjoyable. Rental is probably not a terrible idea for fans of the Studio Ghibli crowd, although I don't know if I would call it quite as polished as a SG production.