Wish Dragon is a delightful film, quietly added to America’s Netflix streaming service after a release in Chinese cinemas earlier this year. The film shares much in common with 2019’s equally delightful Abominable: Both are Chinese-American co-productions set in Shanghai, designed for English voice casts (but also with Mandarin dubs for Mainland release), and both are pretty good! Directed by Chris Appelhans in his debut, Wish Dragon is a fresh cross-cultural spin on classic children’s-story beats — not unlike the film’s requisite earworm pop song, which was written for both English and Mandarin verses and features an upbeat tune.
Young Din (Jimmy Wong) and Li Na (Australia’s own Natasha Liu Bordizzo) were close friends as kids. As adults, Din remains in working-class Shanghai while Li Na has gone on to live a rich life as a model thanks to the success of her father’s corporation. Din wishes to reconnect with his childhood best friend and stumbles upon a teapot that contains a Wish Dragon named Long (voiced by John Cho in English and Jackie Chan in Mandarin). With only three wishes, Din will have to figure out how to reconnect and gauge whether being rich and famous is the path to true happiness. (Spoiler alert: It isn’t).
Wish Dragon isn’t going to give you anything new that you haven’t really seen before across many other animated films, but it isn’t without merit; the hits are hits for a reason. Wong and Liu Bordizzo are both very enjoyable and engaging as the leads, and it’s fun to watch the chemistry of a friendship becoming a romance. There are also some nice roles for Constance Wu and Ronny Chieng. Base Animation also delivers visually engaging character designs, with Long, in particular, being great to look at. Shanghai is also gorgeously rendered.
Composer Philip Klein rounds out the package with a very enjoyable soundtrack that, much like the rest of the movie, won’t reshape the medium but will prove very easy to enjoy. It’s nice to see China depicted in a movie aimed at children in this way, giving the diaspora more options to see themselves and their culture in films made for their tastes and audiences. It’s a small point for many audiences but a hugely important one to others and one that should not be understated.
At only 90 minutes, Wish Dragon offers a quick trip to another country in this COVID-restricted world and just adds a fresh spin on its familiar touches — a Chinese spin on a classic tale of valuing authentic connections over wealth. You’ll wish you watched it sooner.