Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 2021 Animated film ‘Wish Dragon’ may not have an original plot – poor boy finds something that holds a magical creature who can make any three of his wishes come true – but you’ll be surprised with how it’s not just another retelling of Aladdin’s tale.

Directed by Chris Applehans, ‘Wish Dragon’ follows Din, a college-student who longs to be reunited with his childhood best-friend Li Na, who is now a super-rich model. As fate would have it, he is handed a magical teapot, which is home to a cynical ‘wish dragon’ called Long. What will Din’s three wishes be? Will he win over Li Na’s friendship again? And will he be able to beat a bunch of baddies who are also on the hunt for the mythical magical teapot?

What makes this movie different from Aladdin is the fact that it’s a story about family and friendships, and not just another ‘poor guy’ woos ‘rich girl’ tale. Long, the magical dragon has his own personal history, making the character more multi-dimensional than the blue genie from the Arabic folktale. The plot is infused a with a lot of subtle humor and there is something constantly going on, which leaves very little scope for the viewer to become impatient.

There’s a lot of colorful cultural elements weaved into the story that make ‘Wish Dragon’ a lively watch. From kites, kung-fu, dumplings to street festivals, there’s a lot of interesting visual elements that keep you engaged. The modest working neighborhood Din lives had a very honest touch to it, with several families squished into small living quarters, and people constantly eavesdropping and poking their noses into the neighbor’s business. Din shares a tiny flat with his mother, with only a curtain to separate his ‘room’. The juxtaposition of the working class against Li Na’s snazzy world of wealth is done brilliantly.

The animation is colorful, clean and cute. Produced by a bunch of big names that include Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, the animation however has been done by a new studio called ‘Base Animation’. Despite ‘Wish Dragon’ being their first film, they’ve created screen magic that matches the quality of the biggest names in the industry – Disney and Pixar. Only seasoned animation enthusiasts will be able to spot how the backdrop settings are not very detailed and sometimes even a little hazy. But the bright flamboyant artwork+plot makes up for it and it’s mixed with buoyant music that keeps the mood cheery throughout the course of the film.

The climax had a clever allusion to the Greek mythological tale of King Midas, in-fact, there are a lot of little things that might have been inspired from a lot of other stories. From the kooky villain gang, of which one looks like a thin version of Gru from ‘Despicable Me’, to the titular ‘Wish Dragon’ Long, who is a giant pink cute version of Mushu from ‘Mulan’, a lot of characters might remind you of something else, but without spoiling the movie-watching experience or feeling stale. The ending is mixed with a little predictability and a surprising twist that will leave you with a smile. Some viewers may not agree, but for some of us ‘Wish Dragon’ is a super-fun Asian spin to Aladdin we didn’t know we needed.

It’s a solid 8/10 from me. You can stream it on Netflix.

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Listen to episode 29 for some fun movie recommendations.