Review by Camden Ferrell
Chris Appelhans has spent his career working on successful animated films, but now he is debuting as a writer and director with his newest film. Wish Dragon is a new animated film from Sony Pictures Animation who recently found success with their film The Mitchells vs. the Machines. While its premise is far too familiar and predictable, there’s ultimately a strong message at its core that young audiences will enjoy.
Din is a working-class student who has aspirations, but he lacks the financial means to do anything besides live in his mom’s small apartment where he grew up. However, he finds an old teapot which contains a spectacular dragon that can grant him wishes. Together, Din goes on an adventure to reconnect with his long-lost friend Li Na.
Right off the bat, it’s obvious that this bears a lot of similarities to stories like Aladdin. This is especially obvious in the way the movie tackles social class and the differences between families with different means. It has a wise-cracking wish-maker who tries to help a young man connect with someone much richer than he is. This is a tried and tested formula, but this familiarity also proves to be one of the film’s biggest flaws.
While Jimmy Wong gives a decent performance as Din, the best voice performance easily goes to John Cho who plays the dragon, Long. Cho has some good comedic timing, and while he doesn’t quite reach the caliber of Robin Williams in Aladdin, his performance is still enjoyably silly. Even though it should be commonplace, I will give the film credit for making it a point to cast actors of Chinese descent in order to enrich the movie further.
The film has some funny moments in its script, but the writing can feel painfully bland at times. There are some good physical gags and moments of comedy, but the dialogue doesn’t do anything particularly impressive. It’s not particularly funny, and it just exists to slow progress through the very derivative plot.
Even though it may not be original or consistently funny, there are some valuable lessons and messages for young audiences. The movie analyzes the importance of friendship, regret, greed, and what is worth fighting for. These are common concepts in films, but these are still important things for young audiences to learn, and the film succeeds in conveying these ideas.
The movie also benefits from its Shanghai setting which creates a world immersed in Chinese culture. Regardless of how bland it can be, it’s refreshing to see mainstream animated films embrace different cultures to create unique experiences.
Wish Dragon may not be the captivating spiritual successor to Aladdin as one might hope, but it does have some redeeming qualities. There are some funny moments and great lessons for young audiences, and it’s an option worth considering for family movie night even if adults may have a hard time connecting with it.
Wish Dragon is available on Netflix June 11.