WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A determined teenage boy named Din is longing to reconnect with his childhood best friend when he meets a wish-granting dragon that shows him a new world of possibilities.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
This adorable film follows many familiar themes from friendship to class difference to self-worth and does so in a wholesome and enjoyable way. The audience for Wish Dragon is definitely children, but the themes, characters, and storyline makes it exciting and fun for the whole family.
Wish Dragon begins with the story of Din, a boy from a humble background who befriends a girl in his class, Li Na, who similarly comes from a one-parent home. We see through a montage as the two grow closer together, becoming best friends until Li Na moves away. Ten years later, Din (Jimmy Wong) is a college student working part-time as a food delivery person while still living in the same apartment with his mother (Constance Wu). Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) became a model/influencer, and her father, a wealthy businessman. Now, Din is just trying to make enough money to be in Li Na's orbit again to get his best friend back. He comes upon a magical teapot that houses a 'wish dragon' that grants Din three wishes. Din uses the wishes to gain access to Li Na to try and win her over while facing off against some nasty henchmen trying to get the teapot for themselves.
It's easy to draw comparisons between Wish Dragon and another popular animated film, Aladdin. It similarly has a story of a peasant boy who comes into possession of a magical wish-granting being and uses his wishes to pretend to be wealthy and impress a rich girl. But while a lot of the plot points are similar, Wish Dragon felt different to me. It was less about 'rags to riches' and more about finding the true meaning of life. The characters who succeed are the ones that stay true to who they are and are not ashamed of where they come from. I quickly found myself enchanted by the world that writer/director Chris Appelhans created. Set in modern-day Shanghai, it is interesting to see how the ancient magic of the dragon intersects with modern technology.
But what makes this truly special is the hero, Din. When the dragon appears to Din, he's not sure of what he wants to wish for, even though the dragon is used to his masters wishing for stacks of gold or their own personal army, riches and power are not what Din yearns for, what he yearns for is his friendship with Li Na. It's the wholesomeness of this character that makes you believe in his motivations and gets you to root for him. You want Din to succeed because his motives are pure, and he always seems genuine. And this is also an admirable hero for children to look up to, someone who values relationships and being a good person over social status and money.
The weakest point of the film for me was the villain situation. The reveal as to who the antagonist is who hired the henchmen to go after Din and get the teapot from him is obvious but still kind of undersold. And while it seems that the true villain of the film is the pursuit of money and power, the third act tries too hard to sell us on the real-life villains, and that falls short.
The highlight of the film was definitely the dragon, Long (voiced by John Cho). Unlike the genie in Aladdin and other magical beings in other films, Long gets a compelling backstory that immediately piqued my interest. The redemption journey that Long goes on is one of the most interesting parts of the film and what truly sets it apart from its contemporaries. For Cho, it would have been easy to fall into the highly comedic routes taken by Robin Williams in Aladdin or Awkwafina in Raya and the Last Dragon, but Cho manages to find a balance between the regal nature of Long and the comedic situations that he finds himself in.
The animation style from the new animation studio Base Animation is stunning and colourful and seems to light Shanghai up in pinks and purples, much like the dragon in the title. While Wish Dragon might not be the most unique film, it is an entertaining and fun family film that has an important lesson that it imparts on the entire family.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: