With the face of a chimp, the silhouette of Jim Carrey, and a career in thievery, Lupin III is an unlikely hero, which makes him a likely protagonist for a globetrotting adventure. Lupin III: The First is an animated movie for the kiddos, but its hilariously unreasonable action sequences and 1960s swagger give it cross-generational appeal. Hailing from Japan, this CGI animated film features cigarettes, realistic guns, mustachioed dictators from days gone by, and ample amounts of cleavage. Overbearing parents beware: your child might be exposed to fun.
Things get going when a valuable diary is stolen by Lupin (Tony Oliver), who has it stolen from him by a young woman named Laetitia (Laurie Hymes), who has it stolen from her by a colleague of Lupin’s, Fujiko (Michelle Ruff). All the while, the diary’s being sought by a nefarious team of Hitler enthusiasts seeking to resurrect the Third Reich. You’d think it would be easier just to start a Fourth Reich, but you can’t quibble with the reasoning of madmen. Lupin, Laetitia, Fujiko, and a couple of Lupin’s buddies all join forces against the Nazi leftovers to save the world. Lupin’s other two friends include Goemon(Lex Lang), a soft-spoken samurai with a sword that can slice a car in half, and Jigen (Richard Epcar), a well-dressed sharpshooter who can loosen a bolt with a bullet from a mile away, despite wearing his fedora over his eyes at all times.
“… it’s being sought after by a nefarious team of Hitler enthusiasts seeking to resurrect the Third Reich.”
The plot is where Lupin III: The First is most kid-friendly, as it’s made up of simplistic characterizations and reveals. There isn’t much worth talking about. It’s the visuals, mischievous attitude, and simultaneous embracing and subversion of the once-popular spy genre that make the film so much fun. Skinny ties, rubber masks, time bombs defused at the last second, ridiculous gadgets that somehow prove useful—nearly every campy trope is accounted for. Take them and the sexy ’60s kitsch, then add the sensibilities of anime, and you now have two over-the-top, look-at-me styles of storytelling vying for your attention, each one struggling to out-ridiculous the other, and all for your viewing pleasure. The two genres are soul mates.
Animation-wise, the movie is highly detailed and looks expensive. Tonally and visually, it’s reminiscent of The Adventures of Tintin from a few years back, in that the world appears realistic, but the characters look like caricatures. It’s hard to imagine a kid of any age who can’t be sat down in front of this film and kept interested. It’s colorful and only stops moving for Lupin to play the fool or roll a little pathos your way (but never too much). Otherwise, it’s packed with car, foot, and airplane chases, none of which settle for being average and have a thousand little details that give them life. For example, when Laetitia jumps from a burning plane into the arms of Jigen, who’s standing through the moonroof of an old Fiat 500, she takes a moment to catch his hat from blowing away and puts it back over his eyes.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy Lupin III: The First. Some of the in-between people with the pimply faces may even like it. It’s an old-fashioned escapade with a helplessly likable hero—a criminal who can’t help but be better at the former than the latter, despite his best efforts.
"…overbearing parents beware: your child might be exposed to fun."