Wish Dragon Review – Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation’s film is a fun and family-friendly story about family, friendship, and community
Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation teamed up to deliver us the gorgeously animated and wholesomely fun Wish Dragon. The film is about a Din, voiced by Jimmy Wong, a working0class college student with big dreams and small means. He’s working towards reconnecting with his childhood best friend Lina, voiced by Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who moved away and became a wealthy socialite. Din works and saves to be able to afford the means and reconnect with Lina, only to come up short. That is, until he meets Long, voiced by John Cho, a cynical and all-powerful dragon who will grant Din 3 wishes.
The first thing to cover with this Wish Dragon review is the obvious similarities to Aladdin. Aladdin was originally a Chinese folktale about a peasant boy who lived with his mom and meets a wish-granting genie and falls for a princess, gets caught up, and figures out who he really is. This fable inspired the “genie in a bottle” tale from 1001 Nights which inspired the version of Aladdin many have come to known. The overarching plot and themes are pretty much the same, but writer/director Chris Appelhans does an amazing job telling this version with a modern setting, a gorgeous world, and very likable characters.
Wish Dragon takes place in a beautifully recreated modern-day Shanghai. The city teems with life and song that adds to the grandeur of the story. The environments tend to be large in scale, minus Din’s neighborhood, and are full of people. The constantly populated scenes do an amazing job of contrasting the loneliness that Din feels. Din’s feelings of isolation and sense of self-worth are perfectly embodied by his environment and the people in it. Despite generally being a taller character, he tends to seem small and get lost in the crowd but as he displays his true self he tends to stand out. Appelhans does an amazing job telling Din’s story through the events and subtle and impactful visual symbolism.
What really ties the story and the gorgeously animated world and characters together are the performances. Jimmy Wong brings a true earnestness to Din, who just wants to reconnect with his friend who made him feel seen. Natasha Liu Bordizzo brings elegance and heart to Lina. This sounds kind of underwhelming, but take into consideration how easy it is for a character who has vast amounts of wealth and is ignorant to a lot of the things going on around her, Bordizzo’s performance could have easily been that of a spoiled socialite. Instead, she actually draws in the viewers’ empathy and exemplifies Lina’s good heart even when some bad decisions are made. Constance Wu as Mrs. Song, who is Din’s mother, embodies a very traditional and extremely relatable mother. She may be somewhat overbearing, but she is without a doubt a very well-meaning mother, who wants what’s best for her child without regard for the child’s wants. Many will see it as an archetype-Asian mother, minus the debilitating guilt and attitude that tends to come with such parenting in real life. Every actor delivered their parts, such as Jimmy O. Yang, Bobby Lee, and Aaron Yoo, who play the three prominent bad guys in the film. Lee and Yang provide a lot of comic relief, and Yoo gets almost rating-changing intense.
The star of the movie, and the one who has the hardest job because of the film’s similarity to Aladdin, is John Cho as Long the Wish Granting Dragon. Cho does a great job at playing this cynical, impatient, smart-mouth all-knowing, and all-powerful dragon. You can feel his general amazement with how much the world has changed in the 1,000 years Long has spent in his teapot, as well as the frustration he feels towards this kid who won’t listen to him and the obstacles that come in the modern world, like traffic. Cho’s performance in conjunction with being a pink magical dragon, who basically has no limits thanks to the medium of animation, creates a wonderfully joyous performance that is sure to make many want a plush or toy of Long. On top of that, Long also has his own powerful journey of discovery that tugs at the heartstrings. A truly great and heartfelt performance that is sure to be endearing to many.
However, due to the film’s similarities to Aladdin, most will immediately compare Long to Genie. As great as Cho is, he faces the same problem Will Smith has, they are not Robin Williams. Nor is he trying to be, nor should anyone be held to that as a standard. But, it is such a similar role and key part to a similar story that many will compare the two and, unfortunately, likely be left wanting.
Which is the film’s only real downside. Wish Dragon is not Aladdin. For a new generation of children, they will be engulfed in this wonderful world and be elated by the performances and adventures of the characters. They will absorb the message of staying true to yourself and not superficially change yourself for others. For pretty much anyone born in the 90’s and before, we’ll be inclined to compare it to Aladdin. I am sure most will thoroughly enjoy the movie, but nostalgia will set in and force a comparison. And in such cases, nostalgia tends to provide rose-colored glasses. I am not considering the comparison in my Wish Dragon review, but I have to bring it up as it is an unavoidable feeling that I know many will make.
Wish Dragon is wholesome and a whole lot of fun for the whole family. Audiences will be captivated and in awe of the gorgeous animated film and be thoroughly entertained by the lovable characters. Audiences will especially love the funny pink dragon who knows all and knows nothing at the same time. Chris Appelhands does a masterful job of embodying the values of family, community, and self-discovery in the story, and the visuals and performance bring it to life. My Wish Dragon review gets a 4/5.
Wish Dragon is now streaming on Netflix.
ABOUT WISH DRAGON
In Sony Pictures Animation’s Wish Dragon, Din, a working-class college student with big dreams but small means, and Long, a cynical but all-powerful dragon capable of granting wishes, set off on a hilarious adventure through modern day Shanghai in pursuit of Din’s long-lost childhood friend, Lina. Their journey forces them to answer some of life’s biggest questions – because when you can wish for anything, you have to decide what really matters.
Director: Chris Appelhans
Writer: Chris Appelhans
Producers: Aron Warner, Chris Bremble, Jackie Chan
Production Companies: Sony Pictures Animation, Tencent, Sparkle Roll, Base Media
Voice Cast: John Cho, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy Wong, Constance Wu, Will Yun Lee, Jimmy O. Yang, Aaron Yoo, Bobby Lee, Ronnie Chieng
Wish Dragon Review
Wish Dragon is wholesome and a whole lot of fun for the whole family. Audiences will be captivated and in awe of the gorgeous animated film and be thoroughly entertained by the lovable characters. Audiences will especially love the funny pink dragon who knows all and knows nothing at the same time. Chris Appelhands does a masterful job of embodying the values of family, community, and self-discovery in the story, and the visuals and performance bring it to life.