A teenage boy receives a magical teapot carrying a world-weary dragon who is obliged to grant him three wishes in the animated film Wish Dragon.
Although the film is aimed at children, anyone who remembers the Disney Renaissance should be aware of a déjà vu warning: Netflix’s latest animation effort is essentially Disney’s Aladdin remade in Shanghai. Long, the dragon, is voiced by John Cho, who does his best version of Robin Williams, who played the fast-talking Genie in the 1992 Disney animated film. However, without the memorable tunes and universal appeal of that classic, this film can only aspire to be as good as it.
Alladin in Shanghai
Din (Jimmy Wong) is a friendly, imaginative boy as the story begins, and he quickly befriends Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), a fellow school troublemaker. “We’re heading to a better life, and we have to leave this one behind,” Li Na’s father says as the pair cavort in a best buddy montage that comes to a halt as Li Na’s father transports her out of their poor neighbourhood.
Fast forward a decade: Li Na is on billboards all over town, while Din lives with his mother (Constance Wu) in a tiny apartment and works as a food delivery boy, all the while wishing to reclaim his companion in crime. If only Din could bluff his way into Li Na’s moneyed circle with the help of a magic dragon.
Long, the wish granter, provides the most significant departure from the method. Long, unlike the Genie, has a meaningful human backstory and a distinct character arc. Without a razzle-dazzle production number like Friend Like Me, the least this film, directed by Chris Appelhans, could do is give the dragon some emotional depth. Wish Dragon is a fun ride, but it’s not really a trip to another world.