REVIEW: ‘Wish Dragon’ is Heartfelt Animation

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Wish Dragon

It’s not common knowledge, but the story of Aladdin has roots in Chinese folklore. Peasant boy falls in love with a princess, gets pulled by the call of moving classes, losing himself in the process, and comes to find himself again.  That’s also the core of Netflix Original Wish Dragon. Animated by Sony Pictures Animation, Wish Dragon is directed by Chris Appelhans and written by Appelhans and Xiaocao Liu with Aron Warner, Chris Bremble, and Jackie Chan serving as the film’s producers. Additionally, this stunning animated film features a voice cast of phenomenal actors: John Cho, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy Wong, Constance Wu, Will Yun Lee, Jimmy O. Yang, Aaron Yoo, Bobby Lee, and Ronnie Chieng.

Wish Dragon tells the story of Din (Jimmy Wong), a working-class college student with big dreams but just enough means to get by, and Long (John Cho), a cynical but all-powerful dragon capable of granting wishes, as they set off on a hilarious adventure through modern-day Shanghai in pursuit of Din’s long-lost childhood friend, Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). As a wish dragon, Long has to serve a series of masters before he can go to heaven, and Din is the last on his journey. But as the two get to know each other, it’s very apparent they both have very different ideas of success, love, family, and what can bring happiness.

While there are obvious and intentional connections to the commonly known Aladdin story, Wish Dragon comes at it all in a different and heartfelt way. For starters, Din isn’t using his wishes for love, instead, he’s using them to come back into a friendship that meant the world to him. He is pushed into wishing for wealth—not to be rich, but to just get in the doorway. In fact, while love does blossom between the teens, it’s more a byproduct of their friendship than the driving force of coming together. In fact, the film isn’t about romantic love, so much as it’s about the bonds you make with your family and your community and ultimately, connecting to something bigger than yourself.

While Li Na is a “princess” of sorts, it isn’t about Din winning her heart. Instead, Wish Dragon is about helping the teens finding their way back to what’s important and connecting them to each other and their community. Long, on the other hand, is stuck in putting everything in terms of wealth, asserting that class is what makes a person and that relationships are meaningless. As much as Din learns through the film, the real focus is on Long and even Li Na being connected back to what they used to have.

Wish Dragon is also yet another film out of Sony Pictures Animation that proves not only can it compete with the likes of Pixar and Disney, but it can surpass them. This film is gorgeous, textured, vibrant, and comes to life by animating robust environmental shots and magical moments between Din and Long. There is an emotion in the animation that sings from the screen and, when paired with the voice acting, brings out a heartfelt quality to every scene. Additionally, when the film takes on an action spin, it brings out martial arts moments that call back to the 80s Jackie Chan films in the best ways—especially with the villains.

But the most wholesome element of Wish Dragon is Din’s connection to his community in his apartment building and, more specifically, his mother. While their time together is small on-screen, the moments have big impact. Specifically, when Din is confronted with the reality of his class standing, his mother, voiced by Constance Wu, apologizes. She’s sad she couldn’t give him more, and at that moment I saw my own mother. But what she can’t give in money she gives in a homecooked meal with family and community that showcases a closeness I didn’t realize I missed until I saw it on screen, highlighted as a moment of love and identity. While the film is about the Chinese experience, those of us from cultures built around family meals and multigenerational homes and communities will also find a kinship in the film’s main theme.

That said, while we get to see love showcased as a familial, platonic, and romantic bond between people that is more important than money, Wish Dragon escapes the trappings that “love is everything.” It addresses the classist elements of society while also trying to show a path forward—but more specifically what happens when you let success get in the way of your family and the importance of succeeding while also keeping your relationships along the way.

Overall, Wish Dragon is a feat. It’s gorgeous, has an important message, and ultimately tells a familiar story with enough innovation and love that makes it stand out. Where Aladdin was about a thief seeking wealth to win heart and status and winding up in riches anyway, Wish Dragon is about putting family first and learning that wealth isn’t everything. It isn’t about the big houses or the cars, but the life you lead and the people you connect to. It’s about finding your home and your life in the people around you. It’s about valuing your family even when working hard. That’s what makes it special.

Wish Dragon is streaming exclusively on Netflix on June 11, 2021.

Wish Dragon
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Overall, Wish Dragon is a feat. It’s gorgeous, has an important message, and ultimately tells a familiar story with enough innovation and love that makes it stand out. Where Aladdin was about a thief seeking wealth to win heart and status and winding up in riches anyway, Wish Dragon is about putting family first and learning that wealth isn’t everything. It isn’t about the big houses or the cars, but the life you lead and the people you connect to. It’s about finding your home and your life in the people around you. It’s about valuing your family even when working hard. That’s what makes it special.