How many of these animated films are going to continue ripping off older classic animated films? We already have Luca ripping off The Little Mermaid, and while Raya and the Last Dragon is overall great, it still feels a little too similar to Mulan. Now, we have a studio not in any way affiliated with Disney ripping off Aladdin. Only this time, it leaves out the amazing humor, gorgeous imagery, and memorable songs for something we’ve all seen before: a bland, predictable kids’ movie that deserves its sentence as a straight-to-streaming release. Fulfilling the selfish fantasy of magical sidekicks who can fulfill a child’s every desire is the last thing that the little ones need, and unfortunately, Wish Dragon has it.
The wish-granting dragon is a blatant copy-and-paste of the iconic blue genie voiced by Robin Williams- he even has almost the same rules and grants his master’s wish to become a prince for the girl he loves. That boy likewise lies to that girl, which the wish-granter calls him out on, only for the villain to take the wish-granter for himself before the hero can make his last wish. Also, the dragon turns into a human like in Raya and the Last Dragon, as if it couldn’t find enough old and new properties to copy. But don’t worry, it also makes sure to copy the content of other non-Disney properties, such as toilet humor that could easily be edited out, courtesy of DreamWorks and Illumination. In addition, the camera moves around more than necessary, since that’s apparently the key for most animated movies in keeping the kids’ attention. It’s of course unsuccessful at that, and its attempt isn’t improved by the obnoxious closeups and excessive number of elements crammed into the screen at once.
The use of color is all over the place in the design of this city and its inhabitants, made purely of smooth lines with little sense of texture. It doesn’t work to the effect of the dragon discovering all the modern inventions—the last time he reported being out of his teapot was during the Xin Dynasty, yet his line of wonderful discoveries gives the impression that technology is more important than spirituality. He develops an immediate craving for shrimp chips as if he’s the studio’s attempt at creating a new shrimp chip mascot, and he refers to the music played off one’s phone as a “tiny orchestra,” which just further presses the concept of turning technology into living idols.
But here’s where the movie gets it right: the friendship that holds the emotional core together. It starts with a lesson on writing the Chinese word for dragon, and the protagonist, Din, is laughed at for drawing a literal dragon instead, but a girl in the classroom next door, Li Na, did the same thing, which they bond over. Their voice actors, Jimmy Wong and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, sound like they would have great chemistry together if they were acting together in live action, like that of a real friendship dating back to a real young age. There’s even quite a bit of time they’re apart, and that time is shown by the city growing with skyscrapers over several years, so you likewise feel the two leads have grown in that time, and more importantly, how their expanding economy has influenced their growth.
Din starts out as a delivery driver who has nothing in his life together, and he ends with much greater confidence. You see that comparison based on the scene within the first act when he talks to a billboard of Li Na that emits a golden light. The men controlling this billboard-driven economy play the roles of the bad guys, and they make their way into a couple of fun moments, particularly when caught in rapidly fun kung fu animation, as well as when they get their chances at a wish in the climax. It’s cool how the leader of these baddies always has his hands in his pockets, that creative touch works not only as a clever character-building, but connects to his ultimate wish toward the end. Together, these antagonists feel like a legitimate threat to the protagonists even with the comedic voice actors behind them. The dragon gets some solid treatment as well; John Cho voices him with that clear inspiration from Robin Williams, but enough of a creative spin to be distinct, which peaks in a pretty funny traffic jam scene. So I guess that means you can say this film does get better as it goes along.
Those compliments aren’t enough though, because so many more components feel lazily thrown about without reason, particularly the placement of the audio, which often plays while the characters’ lips aren’t moving. It really would have been better if the dialogue remained at a strict minimum, as most of it is just Din saying what we can already see in his actions. A lot of the other dialogue goes back to the issue of ripping off better classic animated films- there’s one instance when the dragon says, “tale as old as time” just like Beauty and the Beast. Now, I know at this point that originality isn’t quite expected, but even in a movie like this where the bad guys have Stormtrooper aim, Disney can’t be an influence on every little decision made, and that includes the accidental Easter Eggs.
So instead of watching something that takes great pride and joy in unoriginality, watch something that will actually give you something fresh and passionate. Maybe if it were produced by people who actually cared, Wish Dragon could have been a loving tribute to the legacy of stories in culture, and thoughtfully incorporated these old fables into China’s currently growing economy, proving how those stories from thousands of years ago are still relevant today. But nope, instead, we just get a ninety-eight-minute ad for shrimp chips.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!