It's the first PreCure movie and it's pretty good. It's a lot like its parent series (Futari wa PreCure Max Heart), in fact, in that it's standard magical girl fare and not particularly rising above that, but it's also well executed, lively and fun.
For starters, it has a new villain! That's something Max Heart could have used more of. Her name's Dark Witch and she'd fit well into a Disney movie alongside Cruella de Vil, except way more of a fashion victim. She's got a corkscrewing palm tree hairstyle and a cloak with a red fur-lined collar, all so big that they'd better on someone twenty metres tall. (In fairness, though, she can transform into a demonic form about that size.)
She's also seriously tough. She repeatedly trashes an entire world's royal warriors, plus the PreCures.
The film also gives us another "garden", i.e. world. The TV series only gave us the "Garden of Rainbows" (Mipple's term for our dimension) and the "Garden of Light" (where Mepple, Mipple, Porun and Lulun come from). The laws of physics seem to vary between "gardens", which would explain the magic and the fact that time passes differently in each dimension. One day in the "Garden of Light" is a century for us, whereas an entire adventure in the "Garden of Hope" here doesn't even use up Hikari's half-hour break time. It's a crystal-based world, with a diamond palace and little frog warriors who are named after gemstones. What's more, apparently these guys fuel all hope in the multiverse. If the Dark Witch steals the queen's jewellery, darkness will overrun all worlds everywhere. Goodness me. I never knew costume jewellery had magic powers like that.
(This film was sponsored by a group of jewellery manufacturers and stores. That's also why Akane's bought herself a diamond necklace and why everyone here is fascinated by gems, although in fairness the latter doesn't really need explanation.)
The plot's straightforward. Frogs come to our world and beg Honoka and Nagisa for help. The Dark Witch kicks arse. The PreCures and their friends get beaten up a lot, but eventually triumph! Hurrah!
What makes the film interesting is its characters.
Yup, she's as bad as ever. We start with table manners comedy as her crush, Fujipi, walks past. (There will be a prince in the Garden of Hope who looks exactly like him, to Nagisa's consternation.) Later she has a fight with a frog that sends her storming off, which of course means she and Honoka won't be able to transform when the Dark Witch attacks. Their PreCure powers need them to working together. Mepple points this out.
Nagisa also gives us the following exchange in the middle of a fight with the Dark Witch.
NAGISA: "I just remembered something important! Desserts at the grocery are half off tonight! I was hoping to stock up on chocolate, but now I might not make it in time!"
HONOKA: "Now that's more like the Cure Black I know."
NAGISA: "We've got to hurry and finish her off and go buy chocolates!"
Nagisa is brilliant.
Not all the frogs are nice. One of them is Square, who needed pushing under a steamroller. He's a hero and sincere in his desire to protect his queen and country, but he's also nursing a snit against the PreCures. He tells Nagisa and Honoka that they're not needed, even though he and his fellow frogs are hopelessly out of their depth. He says that they're inferior because they can't use her powers except when together. (What kind of logic is this? If he'd asked for help from the U.S. Army, would he have bitched at them for fighting as a group?) He's so abusive that he upsets a fourteen-year-old girl (Nagisa) and makes her run away, thus stopping the PreCures from being able to transform when the Dark Witch arrives... and then afterwards he shifts the blame for that entirely to Nagisa.
No one calls him out. Him being a dick could effectively have betrayed his entire world, but no one says so. I wanted to see him tied to a dartboard and used for axe-throwing target practice. He's a bloody hypocrite. "Don't do anything else we don't need! Whose fault is it that Marquis was -"
Answer: IT'S YOURS, YOU REVOLTING LITTLE TOAD.
That's quite a hate figure. Unfortunately no one's going to get tortured to death in a kiddie film, although I did laugh when Square tries to punch the Dark Witch and immediately gets blasted across the deck. Instead, the film does something I hadn't expected at all in giving him a heroic moment before becoming a fan of the PreCures. This works surprisingly well. It's satisfying. However I did notice that even when he's having an outpouring of love on saying goodbye afterwards, our anti-hero still manages to turn this into a torrent of abuse.
For what it's worth, incidentally, this film was released on 16 April 2005 and so arguably goes between Max Heart episodes 10 and 11.
All this is pretty good. I enjoyed my 70 minutes, although I bet the Dark Witch isn't dead. Honoka gets a nice moment when she goes back to try to win over Square, while Hikari's heroism actually gets her injured. Honoka's still what makes this original team so good, though.