Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!
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Sony Pictures Animation has been having quite a renaissance, haven’t they? They went from a studio that people were indifferent to with most people liking Surfs Up, the Hotel Transylvania franchise, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. They then became the most overly hated studio in the world because they *gasp* made The Emoji Movie, which wasn’t even the worst animated film of 2017 or the most cynically-made animated film of all time. Seriously, the hatred this studio got was incredibly petty and I resent anyone who fueled that flame. They then became the messiah of change in the animation scene with their more recent hits like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs. The Machines. With their recent release lineup of animated projects, they seem to be at the forefront of making diverse and distinct animated films that you won’t find from other studios. For example, their next film is quite a delightful experience with Chris Appelhans’ Wish Dragon.
Directed by Chris Appelhans and produced by Sony Pictures Animation, Tencent Pictures, Base FX, Flagship Entertainment Group, and a few other companies, the film was set to release back in 2019 but then was delayed to 2020. Of course, it was officially released in China on January 15th, 2021, and will be officially released on Netflix on June 11th. It was even produced by Jackie Chan who also provides the voice of the titular dragon in the Mandarin dub. So, how many wishes does it take for this film to be good? Well, let’s find out!
The story revolves around a young man named Din, voiced by Jimmy Wong. He’s a hardworking individual who has big dreams but doesn’t have the right background to reach those dreams. His main goal, while being rich and successful, is to reunite with his childhood friend Lina, voiced by Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who he hasn’t seen since they were little kids. One day, while out on a delivery, Din obtains a jade teapot that houses a magical wish-granting dragon named Long, voiced by John Cho. If Long can get Din to use up three wishes, Long can journey to the afterlife where he will be welcomed with a big parade and his many “fans”. However, an evil trio of goons wants the magic teapot for their nefarious deeds for a supposed mysterious client. Can Din use the wishes to reconnect with his childhood friend? What are the true mysteries of the teapot and the dragon? Are shrimp chips that delicious?
What stands out about this film is the fact that the story is really good! I think the story’s core themes of friendship, class dispute, family, and finding out what’s important to you and your life were heartfelt and compelling stuff! I know some people worried about it being too similar to Aladdin (even though the original story of a wish-granting genie was from Chinese origins), but it is pretty much the absolute opposite in terms of story and themes. I mean, yeah, some parts may be familiar, but it has an entirely different vibe and core message than what you would get out of Disney’s take. First off, the Wish Dragon in question has a more sarcastic and pessimistic personality, but Long never becomes overbearing. Long is his own character and doesn’t try to be like the iconic Robin Williams Genie. The characters all feel important and diverse in their goals and dialogue. You get why they are performing certain actions, and they feel fairly realistic. I also love that it’s not a pure romance flick. Din and Lina just want to become friends and it never turns into anything romantic. I’m so happy it’s a platonic relationship because, at the end of the day, it would be stellar if more studios realized ya didn’t need to have the two characters end up together. Even the “villain” of the film has an understandable reason for wanting to get the teapot. The film is also a real laugh riot. There was a lot of fantastic dialogue and visual gags that while maybe more downplayed than Sony’s recent hit The Mitchells vs. The Machines, I still found myself laughing out loud multiple times during the runtime. Seriously, this has some of the best jokes of the year.
Animation-wise, I get that some people may be turned off by the animation. The humans look a little basic, and they do rehash some character models for later purposes and gags, but in general, the animation is quite good. Long gets some of the most expressive animations out of any character this year in animation. I even love the head goon’s leg animation. It might be goofy, but the creativity of him not using his hands for a majority of the film is humorous. The action sequences may have a bit more focus on squash and stretch, but it makes it a lot of fun to watch to see the film use more cartoony physics. The music by Phillip Klein is solid as he’s the composer for The Last Measure and has worked on films like 2019’s Joker and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The voice cast is all pretty good as you have the likes of Jimmy Wong, John Cho, Constance Wu, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy O. Yang, Aaron Yoo, Will Yun Lee, Ronny Chieng, and Bobby Lee.
I will say, the one real downside I have for this film outside of the simple human designs is that the villain is a little weak. His leg thing is super creative and fun, but outside of that, he’s the weakest villain of the bunch. I prefer his henchmen over the main villain. Outside of that, I have already mentioned my issue with the human designs and the fact they rehash multiple models for a multitude of roles, and that did drag me out of the experience at points. Not by much, but it happened every once in a while.
Wish Dragon is the type of film I love discovering every year. Something not as bombastic as more major releases, but a film I easily prefer to the more mainstream releases of this year and previous years. Something that I wasn’t expecting and ended up loving is always a blast to find every year. I highly recommend watching Wish Dragon, and congrats to the director and his team for making a fun and enjoyable experience. Next time, I will be talking about another screener, but expect it to land soon.
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Rating: Go See It!