“wish dragon” is well aware that “aladdin” came first. In his animated feature film debut, dreamy animation director Chris Appelhans assumes you’ll be thinking of Disney’s blue genie when his humble Chinese hero rubs a jade teapot and produces a fluorescent flamingo-pink dragon, ready to fulfill your biggest dreams. wild. or three of them at least. And you know what? he doesn’t care, because “wish dragon” offers a whole new world, a fantastic new point of view, and that’s enough.
Technically, China’s ancient legend of the wishing dragon predates even the “Arabian Nights,” a detail that gives Appelhans license to update the folktale for the modern world, while stripping it of many of the hackneyed clichés that now come with the territory in virtually any wish-granting fable, like the “be careful what you wish for” wet blanket trope, where so-and-so’s poorly worded request inevitably backfires, teaching that person who was better off without the magic of lust that may have whispered into him.
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The hero of “wish dragon” doesn’t have big ambitions. Shanghai-based Din (Jimmy Wong) may be very poor and desperate, but he has an unusually good foundation for those characters. When offered three wishes, he honestly doesn’t know what to ask for, while Long, his obedient and almighty dragon (voiced by John Cho), is full of suggestions: why not wish for piles of gold? or his own personal army? After all, each of Long’s previous masters wanted wealth and power. but no noise. he just wants his best friend back.
In the film’s upbeat opening, we see young Din and neighbor Li Na bonding over all things dragon. They swear to be friends forever, then the prologue turns melancholic, as Lina’s father moves away and the friends part ways. Fast forward a few years, and Din still can’t get her out of her mind, and who can blame him, now that Lina is a successful model whose face appears on billboards all over town (including one from the shack roof). where din still lives with her pragmatic mother, voiced by constance wu).
so when poof, the magical dragon shows up eager to serve, din doesn’t covet money or power per se, though both would help him make his way to li na’s birthday party, since he’s good enough now Rich enough to be out of his league. To Long’s surprise, Din wishes for temporary wealth and power (but only enough mass to get through the gate), trusting that they will be able to pick up where they left off if only they can reunite.
the plot is a bit “have your cake and eat it too” in this sense: “wish dragon” presents din as a pure and sincere soul, someone who can teach a lesson or two about the priorities of life, but also as a “peasant” to the “princess” of li na. ergo, we would expect him to be a bit greedier to make up for all that he lacks. But that’s not too hard to accept, as Appelhans’s aesthetic, both the fast and clever animation style (an energetic pose-to-pose technique that mirrors classic martial arts movies) and the total openness to Chinese culture, old and new, it is so entertaining in itself. The over-the-top smash-and-pull style (reminiscent of Despicable Me and the “Madagascar” movies) elevates familiar scenes, like when Din (who desperately wishes he knew how to fight) takes on a trio of nimble henchmen. and it’s so much fun to watch long curves and bend at right angles. (Chinese audiences benefit from producer Jackie Chan providing his voice for the Mandarin language version.)
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Even more than last year’s netflix original “over the moon”, this van produced by sony pictures animation seems to recognize and respect the eastern environment in which it takes place, while appreciating the curiosity of outsiders. Granted, most audiences won’t know anything about Appelhans (a talented concept artist on movies like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Monster House”) or where he came from, but I was pretty excited to see his name in the movie. . I’ve been a long-time fan of his watercolor illustrations (fantasy scenes between kids and sloths, rusty robots and misshapen unicorns) and I can see how such portraits of unlikely friends, both real and imagined, could translate to a teenager and his trusty desire. dragon.
what appelhans and the creators of “wish dragon” couldn’t know when they started was that disney had a similar movie up its sleeve in “raya and the last dragon”. plus, they had awkwafina on her side (she’s much funnier than cho, who has personality, but can’t do impressions or improvise like a comedian can). “raya” also referred to the “aladdin” mythos, which leaves this project feeling a little less fresh, though there’s room enough for multiple dragon-themed/wish-granting fables in this world. so pick the one that streams on whatever service you use, at least until we all get our wish for those movies back on the big screen.
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