Despite being derivative of Aladdin and other genie-in-a-bottle stories, Wish Dragon is still a mostly enjoyable film for the entire family.
This review of the Netflix film Wish Dragon does not contain spoilers.
Imagine if you could wish for any 3 things? Sounds like a great premise, right? That’s more or less the plot of Sony’s latest joint venture with Netflix, Wish Dragon. Had Aladdin not come out and explored the concept first, it might be a bit more enjoyable.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Wish Dragon isn’t bad. It’s just too predictable. The film introduces us to our two main characters, Din and Li Na, as children. Ironically, they become friends and bond over their love of dragons. We see a montage of them growing closer and getting older, but then one day Li Na has to move away. While this devastates Din, he promises to find his way to Li Na someday.
Years pass, and the film picks up with him and Li Na as adults. He’s balancing going to school and being a delivery guy, while Li Na has become a celebrity. Their lives couldn’t be any more different, but Din wants to keep his promise. In an attempt to rekindle their relationship, Din sets up a special evening and even gets her a gift — a tea pot. Unbeknownst to him, there’s a wish dragon named Long that’s been trapped in there. Being that Din releases him, he grants him 3 wishes. In the process of releasing Long, he also unleashes a bit of chaos on himself. As it turns out, a few people know about Long and want to harness him for their own selfish gain. So the majority of the film follows Din as he tries to figure out what to wish for, all while trying to protect Long.
Once again, the premise is far from original. You could continue to draw parallels between this film and Aladdin for days. I mean, Din is literally the last three letters of the name Aladdin. Not only are both protagonists motivated by love, but the person that each of them loves is from a totally different class. Like Genie in the original, Long also longs to be free. And in the background, there is a big baddie looking to use Long’s power for evil.
The film’s best aspect is probably its exploration of Asian culture. Taking place in China, even as an animated film, between the architecture, the food, and the clothes, it perfectly captures the aesthetic of the country. Considering that the writer and director are white, but none of the characters speak Mandarin in the film, the fact that the entire voice cast is Asian also helps to amplify this. Wish Dragon is not so much a film about Asian culture made for Asian people, but rather a film about Asian culture made by Asian artists for everybody. If you just so happen to be Chinese or of any other Asian descent, you’ll just especially feel seen.
I also personally appreciated the approach the film took with Din in trying to decide what wishes to make because when you’re given the opportunity to wish for anything, you need to really think about the things you already have.