Sony Pictures recently stepped into the arena of animation with instant classics like “Into the Spider Verse” and short film “Hair Love.” In the wake of their success and through Netflix’s streaming platform, they have added more experimental animated films including “Wish Dragon.”
“Wish Dragon” centers around Din, a poor college student in Shanghai who lives in a one room apartment with his mother. He wants to rekindle friendship with his childhood friend Lina but the only problem is that she’s rich and famous now. Yet, despite her fame, Din remains optimistic and dreams of reuniting with his friend for her birthday. Din manages to receive a magic teapot containing a Wish Dragon named Long, who offers Din three wishes and the prospect of having anything he could ask for, expedites his dreams of celebrating Lina’s birthday with her. Din must navigate high society, honesty, reality and flee from gangster-esqe goons trying to steal away his teapot. Even Long the dragon and other characters must learn the lesson of friendship and community throughout the story.
The general plot may sound familiar to the Disney film “Aladdin”, where a poor boy wants wealth and the girl; he procures a magic lamp and a genie who grants three wishes. “Wish Dragon” retells “Aladdin”, holding homage to Disney’s “Aladdin” within the writing but still manages to subvert its pauper to prince predecessor. Instead, Din wishes to become a “princeling,” Southeast Asian slang for rich boys. From the beginning, Din doesn’t dream of wealth like Aladdin and hesitates to lie like the Disney Prince, however Long the dragon, or the “Genie” figure serves as the morally gray figure much like Aladdin. This subversion of moral roles for the Din and Long allows the story to unfold in a different way than “Aladdin” and makes it unique while also staying true as a retelling.
Produced by Jackie Chan, “Wish Dragon” portrays a modern Eastern Asian aesthetic, integrates energetic kung fu fight scenes and utilizes a CGI cartoon style expertly through the humor and visuals. Even a simple quirk like a man using only his feet while his hands remain in his pockets becomes a hilarious yet unsettling aspect to the crisp cartoon style.
Featuring Asian American actors like Constance Wu and Jimmy Wong, “Wish Dragon” presents an engaging cultural experience through an energetic family-oriented story. From shrimp chips to Chinese festivals and dragons to dumplings; they even integrate “guǎngchǎng wǔ” or public square dance, which is a common square-dancing exercise in plazas or parks in China. Sony Pictures manages to animate and preserve a wholesome aspect of Chinese culture to share with everyone. While the story may seem predictable or unoriginal on the surface, a further delve into the full experience leads to a riveting and fun film celebrating culture, family and storytelling.