The presence of another Asian “dragon” cartoon on the calendar sentenced Sony’s “Wish Dragon” to a streaming release, on Netflix. Well, that and the lame “Aladdin in Modern Day China” premise.
But even though it’s got a magic lamp — OK, tea kettle — and genie who grants three wishes (um, dragon) — it’s not like the “Arabian Nights” have exclusive rights to that fairytale.
And it’s got John Cho, cracking wise, snobbing it up in the title role. The running gag here is that Long, the wish dragon, has been serving out his sentence for years. He doesn’t know from cell phones, “chariot made of steel” (buses) or “SHRIMP crisps.”
“How long have you been in this teapot?”
“Is it still the Qing Dynasty?”
Din and Li Na were friends in elementary school, fellow outcasts, children of the working poor and vowed to be “best friends forever.” Then her go-getter dad got them out and Din never sees her again.
Until she turns up as a billboard model and socialite when they hit their teens. He’s college bound, and a young man (voiced by Jimmy Wong) with a mission — to see Li Na again.
As a food delivery guy, he’s hustling up the cash to at least put himself in her presence. But that’s how he finds himself with a lamp, and darned if the lamp isn’t about to change his life. But how?
Long the dragon looks down on this “peasant boy” and judges him and offers up the usual “peasant folk” wishes — a suit of armor made of gold,” many palaces “made of gold,” etc.
The kid? He’s the only one who sees the dragon, but he’s got his plan and he won’t stray from it. If the darned dragon won’t fly to get him across town, he’ll take the bus. If he can’t make Li Na fall in love with him, he’ll figure that out on his own, too. He won’t “waste a wish” on any of the material things Long, who is in a hurry to get this over with, has in mind.
“Careful what you DON’T wish for,” the dragon purrs.
The gags in this East Asian Aladdin come from the sight gag gang — short goon, bulky goon both working for a tall, thin, MMA skilled boss goon — who also want the lang. And from Din’s accidental wishes — like Din needing to escape the gang’s clutches and mumbling “I wish I knew how to fight.”
Turns him into Jackie Chan, and make no mistake, the martial arts comedy is quick, stylized animated slapstick at its best. Hilarious.
Cho gets maximum mileage out of Long’s irritation at the modern world, overrun with “peasants.” His curses and oaths are period perfect. “Son of a CABBAGE FARMER!” “Great WALL of China!”
The Hollywood comedy made by a Japanese owned studio takes a few shots at Chinese materialism and People’s Republic of Oligarchs class snobbery. Din has no prayer with Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) unless he can impress her and her nouveau riche dad (Will Yun Lee).
Long gives bad but timeless “impress the girl by acting dismissive” advice, and a sage line here and there.
“Rich people never pay attention to anyone else.” Narcissistic personality disorder, anyone?
The moral of the story, “the power of human friendship,” must have taken 33 seconds to come up with. But some of the sight gags — Long disguising himself as human, the two of them escaping the bad guys by donning a dragon parade costume — are a stitch.
If only there’d been more of them. There’s little pathos and no fall on the floor laughs — although a few are big enough to notice. This isn’t one of the best animated film in an underwhelming year for animation, not quite up to the quality of Disney’s higher minded (according to their press releases) “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
But if the kids insist on sitting through it, adults may get a chuckle out of “Harold” of “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” cracking jokes and looking down his nose at these “peasants.”
MPA Rating: PG
Cast: The voices of Jimmy Wong, Constance Wu, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Bobby Lee, Will Yun Lee, Aaron Yoo and John Cho.
Credits: Directed by Chris Applehans, script by Chris Applehans and Xiaocao Liu. A Sony Animation/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40