Released: 11th June
Seen: 16th June
So earlier this year, Disney released the film Raya and the Last Dragon. It was a pretty great film as a lot of Disney’s animated fare tends to be but there was this weird thing going around where people wrote off its box office as a failure because it only made 130 million worldwide on a 100 million budget. For some reason this is a thing that keeps coming up this year where films are having their box offices judged based on pre-pandemic expectations, as though we’re completely through the wilderness. Spoilers, we’re not. Anyway I bring this up because I wonder if the supposed failure of Raya and the Last Dragon led to today’s film Wish Dragon not getting as much attention as it deserves which is a shame because Wish Dragon is charming.
Wish Dragon follows a young man named Din (Jimmy Wong) who is trying to get by day to day as part of a lower class family in Shanghai. He skips a lot of school taking up odd jobs so he can earn enough money to get into a higher society gathering and catch up with his childhood friend Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). On one of his deliveries, Din ends up receiving a strange green teapot that has a magical pink dragon in it.
This dragon, named Long (John Cho) can grant Din three wishes and once he does, Long will get to be free and go to heaven. Din tries to use the wishes to reconnect with Li Na while Long anxiously tries to get him to make that third wish that’ll set him free. Meanwhile a tall and lanky bad guy lurks around to try to take the teapot in order to use the dragon’s powers for his own nefarious needs.
If that story read a little familiar to you it’s because you remember the story of Aladdin which is basically the exact same story that Wish Dragon is doing. For the record, this isn’t a bad thing at all, Aladdin is a classic for a reason and using that story as a scaffolding to hang interesting character designs, creative comedic sequences and a giant pink dragon off is a great idea. Hell, there’s a reason the main character is called “Din”, this is very literally a reworking of Aladdin and if you know that story and like it then boom, here’s another great version of that tale.
Wish Dragon is just chock full of pure heartwarming charm that oozes from every pore. Everything from the characters to the comedy to the setting itself is just so delightful that it’s almost impossible to keep a smile off your face. The animation is full of sharp angles and fast motion, utilising the form to its fullest extent to create a lightning fast visual comedy style that can elicit a laugh just by looking at the dramatic pose they put their character in. It also allows for some gloriously over the top fight sequences that can best be described as hyperactive eye candy.
That giant pink wish dragon at the centre of the poster is the visual showstopper that stands out in the frame every time he flies about our antagonist and offers some kind of witty visual joke. Every time he floats about it’s a lot of fun to see him because… well, it’s a bright pink dragon, I don’t actually think I need to explain why that’s just fantastic as a visual. He has a few moments of using his magic to transform, perhaps most hilariously into a giant dragon puppet to help hide our main characters during a large chase scene.
Honestly, if you were to try and point out an issue with Wish Dragon it would be that it’s adherence to the Aladdin storyline means there is no real surprises, that familiarity can work against it at points. I don’t end up wondering what’s going to happen if the bad guy gets the dragon, I saw Aladdin back in the 90s so I know pretty much the exact wish that they’ll make and how it’ll go for the ending. That familiarity does help save a little bit of time in setting up the key story parts, but it does that at the expense of surprise… and if that’s the worst thing I can say about the film, that’s pretty damn good.
Wish Dragon is just a joyous ride that, admittedly, felt very familiar due to it retelling a classic story that we’ve all heard before but that comforting feeling is kind of the point. It’s comfort food, a nice fun film with a fantastic all Asian cast that contains so much warmth that you can almost feel the love that got put into it by the filmmakers. Wish Dragon is the exact kind of film that’s made for a big family viewing on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a lot of laughs, a genuine joy from start to finish.