Dragon of Doom (1994)

A couple of weeks ago, somebody on Twitter made the observation that the Lupin the Third franchise has a whole lot in common with the Scooby Doo franchise. I’d tell you who, but it turns out this is not a particularly original observation, and whatever I saw and enjoyed was lost in search results dating back many years. But it was new to me, and I laughed, and then we watched this morning’s Lupin film, and I laughed a lot more. So it’s nice that there was a Scooby comparison for me to roll around in my head, because it kept me going while this story failed to excite.

It really should’ve been a little better than this. Dragon of Doom was the sixth TV movie for the gang, and even with my limited knowledge of Lupin III, it struck me as really by-the-numbers. There’s a hilarious moment of cartoon physics when Lupin is about 4000 meters down at the bottom of the ocean, and the bad guy is so over-the-top with his Bond villain headquarters that I had to chuckle at the chutzpah, but on the other hand, I think this series had given us Bond villain wannabes prior to ’94. The animation is about on the same TV-cheap level as the previous movie we watched, but it’s laid out much more competently than that, and none of the action sequences left me confused as to what was supposed to be happening.

You can see the seed of a good plot in it, which makes it more frustrating. Lupin and Goemon end up wanting the same ancient treasure for themselves: Goemon because it belonged to his ancestral clan and Lupin because his granddad failed to pilfer it eighty years ago. But their antagonism is too shallow and unconvincing in the first place, and this becomes incredibly frustrating when Goemon doesn’t point out the real problem later on: Lupin’s selfishness in holding onto the dragon seems to have got an ally killed. It’s like the producers wanted to bend the rules, but were afraid to bend them anywhere far enough to give the story some bite.

Our son adored about 99% of it, and absolutely lost his mind laughing when Zenigata shows up with five boats packed from stem to stern with gun-crazed cops, only for our heroes to escape in something so unlikely that even the ICPO’s finest can’t help but close his eyes and giggle. On the other hand, Fujiko strips down for a shower scene, which had our kid closing his own eyes and hiding. Okay, so the Scooby Doo comparison isn’t flawless. Fairly sure Hanna-Barbera / Warner never let us see Daphne do that.

Here’s a thought: since the Lupin gang are ageless and always set in “the present day,” shouldn’t Lupin be referring to the 1910s-era Arsene Lupin as a much older ancestor than his grandfather by now? Our hero’s got to be a great-great grandson by 2021. Maybe he’s really Lupin the Fifth.

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