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Wish Dragon – Movie Review

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Wish Dragon – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

There are a lot of possibilities with a story about a wish-granting magical being. Wish Dragon understands that with its tale of a young lad coming into possession of a teapot with a dragon inside. While the story has shades of Aladdin, that’s understandable given this is a Chinese co-production and the original tale was set in China. Director/writer Chris Appelhans has crafted an entertaining story with a decent number of laughs and beauty and he keeps the plot moving at a good pace. The best parts do come from the titular dragon, who blasts onto the screen with plenty of energy and has its own well realised arc.

Wish Dragon appears to take a lot of inspiration from Chinese mythology, although the concepts are explained simply enough for a western audience to understand. The main protagonist Din is a likeable lead, with the film also highlighting his flaws. The filmmakers properly establish him and his childhood best friend Li Na, starting with an entertaining montage focusing on how close they are. It doesn’t take long for Long the Dragon to show up and he steals the show. The animators take advantage of the dragon’s abilities as he contorts himself in all sorts of positions. However, he is able to exist as more than just comedic relief and John Cho brings plenty of layers to his vocal performance.

The partnership between Din and Long is nicely developed and the filmmakers also have fun with the dragon getting used to this new time period. There are a lot of big laughs, like his reaction to a seemingly never-ending traffic jam and his attempts to blend in. Appelhans is also able to peel away Long’s story and where the movie takes him is quite lovely. Similarly, the film doesn’t go down the expected paths when Din attempts to reconnect with Li Na. Her father is also properly fleshed out, with his motivations making sense. Wish Dragon is careful not to portray him a certain way that would make the character less interesting.

The villains that chase after Din to acquire the teapot are rather one-dimensional, though, and the humour doesn’t quite land. One of them especially has a voice that doesn’t quite fit his design. However, Appelhans does direct some solid action sequences and makes good use of the character. Din’s magic-enhanced fighting abilities also lead to some funny choreography and inventive scenes. The animation, done mostly at Chinese visual effects studio Base Media, has an appropriately colourful appearance and the production team succeed in portray the bustling streets. The contrast between Din’s small apartment and Li Na’s fancy home especially works in showing far apart their worlds are.

Wish Dragon works as a likeable fantasy comedy with plenty of the required magic. However, there is a heart and a message about humility that’s well portrayed. You start the film thinking it’s mainly Din who will learn a lesson. However, it’s the dragon who becomes the character with the biggest journey and arc. There are enough solid laughs and high energy to keep one’s attention, while the emotional beats also work. This proves to be a solid directing debut for Chris Appelhans, after serving as a conceptual artist on films like Coraline and The Princess and the Frog, and it will be exciting to see what he makes next.

Stefan Ellison