In the captivating animated film Wish Dragon, a teenager comes into possession of a magical teapot containing a weary dragon of the world who is forced to grant him three wishes.
The film is aimed at kids, but for anyone old enough to remember the Disney Renaissance, there should be a deja vu warning: Netflix’s latest animation effort is essentially Disneys Aladdin transposed to Shanghai. John Cho, who voices Long, the Dragon, makes his best impression of Robin Williams, who lent his voice to the quick genius in the 1992 Disney animation. But without the catchy songs and intergenerational appeal, this movie can only do. wish to live up to this classic.
When the story begins, Din (Jimmy Wong) is a funky, imaginative kid who befriends Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), another troublemaker at school. The pair are shown frolicking around in a best friend montage that comes to a screeching halt when Li Nas’ father kicks them out of their humble neighborhood, saying: We were leaving for a better life, and we must leave this one. behind.
Fast forward a decade: A posh Li Na appears on city billboards, while Din lives in the same cramped apartment with his mother (Constance Wu) and works as a food delivery boy, while aspiring to win back his partner in delinquency. If only a magical dragon could help Din make his way through Li Nas’ wealthy circle.
Here the film becomes a complete folk tale. Certain moments, like when Longs’ voice becomes squeaky as he folds into his tiny teapot space, seem explicitly quote Aladdin, not to mention the airborne date that Din and Li Na have on a flying dragon.
The biggest break in the formula comes from Long, the wish-granter. Unlike the Genie, Long has a compelling human history and follows a defined character arc. In the absence of a mind-blowing Friend Like Me-like production number, endowing the dragon with some emotional depth is the least this film, directed by Chris Appelhans, can do. Wish Dragon is a transport experience, but it’s far from a All new world.
Classified PG. Duration: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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