"Wish Dragon" stars Jimmy Wong, John Cho, Constance Wu, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy O. Yang, Aaron Yoo, Will Yun Lee, and Ronny Chieng. Released in China on January 15, 2021, followed by a Netflix release on June 11, 2021, the film is about a college student who finds a wish-granting dragon.
The film featured the directorial debut of Chris Appelhans. Has anyone ever wondered what "Aladdin" will be like if China made it instead of Disney? That would've been a different renaissance if that happened. However, that didn't stop Sony Pictures Animation from making that happen. Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix got off to a promising start this year with "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" back in April, proving that there's still some creativity left in that studio's noggin. This weekend sees Sony and the streaming service attempting to go two for two with a genie-in-a-bottle story set in China. According to the research I've done, the film received a theatrical release in China in January after facing some delays and earned a solid amount of money at the box office. Not a whole lot, but good enough to call it a mild success. So now its other test would be impressing the American audiences, especially the Netflix subscribers. Was it a wish that's worth getting? Let's head on down to China and find out.
The film centers on Din (Wong), a working-class college student in Shanghai who struggles with achieving a better life. He later discovers a green teapot that houses a mighty wish-granting dragon named Long (Cho), who is forced to grant three wishes to Din before he can enter the Spirit world. I'm starting to get "Aladdin" vibes already. They set off on a journey throughout the city to search for Li Na (Bordizzo), Din's childhood friend who moved away with his father (Lee) years ago to live a lavish life. Their adventure will lead them to learn about what matters most in life while trying to prevent the magical teapot from falling into the wrong hands. Like Netflix's "Over the Moon", "Wish Dragon" used plenty of Chinese elements for its storytelling, along with a dash of Disney's "Aladdin" for the extra texture. Okay, it's more than just a dash. My only concern going into the film was that it might provide some easy-to-point-out elements similar to the Disney classic, making viewers quickly judge it as a Chinese rip-off. After watching it for myself, it turned out that my concern was correct, but to my surprise, it didn't negatively affect my experience towards it. Was it as fantastic as "Mitchells vs. the Machines"? No. Was it the best film that Sony Pictures Animation has produced? No way. Was it enjoyable enough for me to recommend to families? Yes, it was. Not only was the story well-paced and comical in some moments, but it also offered enough heart and freshness in its material to prevent it from being a 100% rip-off. It's far from original, and it can be pretty predictable for those who want high-quality storytelling in animated films. However, it had a sense of appeal in the characters and plot to provide some decent entertainment, wacky chuckles, and solid messages for the kids and even some adults. In addition to its delightful story, the film also featured a talented cast from the Asian-American front. Jimmy Wong and Natasha Liu Bordizzo were respectable in their roles as Din and Li Na, respectively, but the real show-stealer was "Harold & Kumar" star John Cho as Long. His distinctive vocal performance gives off a whole new identity to Long, who I can describe as a dragon version of Genie with an attitude and a lack of patience. You do not hear John Cho's voice. You hear Long's voice. He can be a bit irritating due to his selfish personality. Still, Cho's performance, combined with his character's comedic chops and backstory, makes him a bearable side character that's pivotal to the film's central theme. He's no Genie, but when it comes to wishes and laughs, he's got enough skills to make our dreams a reality. The film's animation is what you would expect from a Sony Pictures Animation project: smooth, cartoony, and undeniably vibrant. While it didn't hold a candle to what "Mitchells" and "Spider-Man" offered regarding inventiveness, the style was at least serviceable in providing some colorful visuals and humorous slapstick.
Overall, "Wish Dragon" is a derivative take on the Disney animated classic that inspired it, but it's also a fun and radiant rip-off that'll make people's wishes for a tolerable animated film come true. It couldn't wish itself away from its predictable story and familiar elements. Despite that, its voice cast, vibrant animation, and entertaining plot make this another appropriate addition to the Sony Pictures Animation library. If you're looking for a simple yet enjoyable family film and have a Netflix account, give this one a try.