Ultraman Rising is about imposing creatures roaring loudly as they stalk across Tokyo ruining the peace of everyone in their wake. And leaving a trail of destruction behind him.

As the parents watching will know this movie isn’t about Godzilla, it’s about toddlers.

Ultraman Rising is a surprisingly thoughtful movie stuck with poor marketing that will likely prevent it from finding the audience it deserves.

For the uninitiated Ultraman is one of the most successful media franchises in Japan stretching more than 60 movies. This new film attempts to make the film accessible for a new audience of American kids. And it hits the mark.

Kenji, our hero, moved to America as a child to pursue his dreams of playing baseball. And today he is the best player on the planet. 

His father stayed behind to act as Ultraman and protect Tokyo from the regular monsters, or kaiju, that attack the city. The kaiju aren’t bad guys as the prologue tells us, they are simply animals that need to be subdued. And Ultraman works both to defeat and learn about the creatures .

When Kenji’s father is injured, he needs to return to Tokyo to take his place as Ultraman. He leaves the Dodgers to play for the Yomiuri Giants.

Kenji is dealing with his strained relationship with his father, and his own self-centered attitude. But everything changes when after defeating a Kaiju and discovering it was protecting its baby.

The baby imprints on Kenji and treats him as its father. Learning to care for and protect his new thirty foot toddler helps Kenji learn the skills he needs to grow into his new superhero role.

The movie is certainly overstuffed, and would have benefited from being thirty minutes lighter. The movie takes way too long to get moving with its main story.  I can think of a plot line or two that could have been dropped without negative effect. And early on it’s hard to know what are the threads worth paying attention to.

But the story is legitimately engaging. The characters, particularly Kenji and his father are thoughtfully constructed, and it’s easy to feel invested in their journey. The kids I watched it with, didn’t struggle with the run time.

Christopher Sean who voices Kenji delivers a knock out performance. And on the technical side the animation here is beautiful. The Spider-verse films continue to expand their legacy as animated projects step up the artistry of their animation styles.

As far as the theme, it feels designed to show the benefits of parenthood even within the difficulties. And its approach to the kaiju presents a thoughtful approach to problem solving that isn’t often present in children’s films.

In addition while Kenji serves as an adopted father, the film’s climax is wrapped up in the importance of biological family.

I do worry that the film presents parenthood primarily as a way to meet adult needs, rather than primarily about raising a new generation. But because the main adult need of Kenji is overcoming his selfishness, I think that issue washes out in the final evaluation.

the film is a more violent than I’d prefer for its target age group. But again the violence is never graphic and it carries a weight on the story and characters that is a refreshing antidote to so much of the cheap violence found in kids movies of this kind. 

All said, I would be happy to show this movie to my kids. And I can imagine myself referring back to the morals within it from time to time. It’s probably best for kids six to twelve years old, especially those who like action adventure films.

Three and a half out of five stars. Ultraman Rising premiered on Netflix Thursday June 13, 2024.