It's the third One Piece movie, originally released as a double feature with Digimon: The Runaway Digimon Express, and it takes place... well, best not to worry about that. It doesn't fit within series continuity, since it has Tony Tony Chopper but neither Vivi (who joined before him) nor Robin (who joined when Vivi left). Does it take place before or after Arabasta? Sanji is wearing his "Mr Prince" sunglasses, but Nami isn't using Usopp's Clima-Tact! Do you care? Probably not.
I'd been looking forward to this because of Chopper. I knew he was a popular member of the Straw Hats, but I'd never seen any of his stories before and this is his first film. He's the sixth regular here alongside Luffy, Zoro, Sanji, Nami and Usopp. What's interesting about him is that he's not tough. In fact he's kind of pathetic. He's actually a reindeer who ate a Human-Human Fruit and can now talk, think and switch between various physical forms, with his default appearance being more or less a small human child but with antlers, hooves and fur. You'd expect him to get squashed like a bug as soon as trouble starts and when the movie begins, he's trying to talk his friends out of doing anything dangerous. (Fat chance.) He's also gullible, easily stressed and a pushover... which is cool, because it's more interesting to see someone like that doing the brave thing anyway. He's not brave. He knows when he's out of his league. Nevertheless when the situation gets bad enough, he's capable of stepping up and trying to save his friends even though he knows he's going to get hurt.
This isn't something we get from the others. Luffy, Zoro and Sanji could take down superheroes. Usopp has a bit of that, but in addition to being a coward and a liar he also has those boomerangs and explosive catapults. As for Nami, she's scum and the only cheering I'm doing when she's around is for the bad guys.
Anyway, as the title suggests, this film's built around Chopper. This gives it a different plot structure from normal One Piece movies. Normally it's all about our heroes beating an all-powerful line-up of villains, but not here. It's a slight surprise when villains show up at all, whereupon they turn out to be such a bunch of losers that some considerable time later it's an even bigger surprise when it turns out that they can fight. More importantly, we're on Crown Island, a world of intelligent animals, and they're about to crown a gobsmacked Chopper as their king. Thematically speaking, it's an island of Choppers. The animals are being hunted and killed by the villains, who boast that "humans can take anything they like from animals". Admittedly there's also one good human, Mobambi, but he's a child and his chances of surviving a fight are zero. Everyone's an underdog and Chopper's now the king of these underdogs, with subjects who believe that it's wrong to try to fight the bad guys for themselves. Go on, king. You go and save us. We'll just be hiding over here in these bushes.
This is quite interesting. They learn from Chopper. Our reindeer will risk his unheroic neck to save them as Mobambi wallows in self-pity, but before long he's taking action too. The ending is particularly appropriate. The underdogs fight back... and they don't win. They're still underdogs. They never stood a chance, despite Chopper's array of physical forms. However at least they didn't just give up, while if they can just hang on long enough... hey, it's Luffy!
I like all this. It's nice to see formulae being shaken up, even when the normal formula is perhaps slightly more satisfying than its temporary replacement. Terrifying villains are obviously more dramatic than a bunch of losers, but the world would be boring if everything was the same and so, every once in a while, it's nice to meet some losers too. Besides, the results are funny. That's the obvious storytelling choice if you're not going to be straightforwardly scary and at times what we have here approaches parody. Luffy's so simple-minded that he's affected by a hypnotic signal aimed at animals. (When he's happy on realising that's why he was going berserk, his crewmates remind him that it's not a compliment.) There's also humour based on his near-autistic tactlessness and a surreal ability to consume food, although don't think that the other regulars don't get gags too. Usopp's cowardice in particular made me laugh.
Has Chopper become my favourite character? Not by light-years. Luffy's still the best, with both comedy and emotional power coming from his empty-headed confidence in his friends and his infinite (but retarded) goodness. However I like Chopper and I can see how he lends himself to stories that you couldn't tell so easily with the others. He's also cute.
Overall, I thought this was good. One Piece is still a comedy action anime predominantly aimed at children, but that doesn't mean it's bad and this particular movie is also thematically stronger than you'd expect. Note the closing credits, for instance. They're playing over a montage of the regulars' childhoods as per their established backstories, which at first glance might just look like a nod to the fanboys, but in fact is another reference to heroes being small and powerless. Zoro at one point gives a surprising definition of "strong", but on reflection that too is central to the theme. Confident, entertaining and richer than it looks.