After finally sitting down and watching Wish Dragon on Netflix, I have to confess I have (once again) learned a powerful lesson: one should never judge a movie by its first 20 minutes alone. Because while Wish Dragon does get off to a rather slow start, it does eventually come into its own with a beautiful story to tell.
The story of Wish Dragon is set in modern Shanghai and follows a capable (but poor) young man named Din, who unexpectedly finds himself in possession of a magic teapot containing a “wish dragon” named Long who can grant him three wishes. If that sounds suspiciously familiar to the plot of Aladdin, well, it is, and on that basis alone I almost gave up on the film because, let’s be honest, Disney did that story years ago and did it very well.
But there’s a key difference between these two films and that is the titular wish dragon Long. This pink dragon is no Genie, and the film is well-written to make sure we don’t think of him that way. Long is an unexpectedly complex character; he started off irritating but slowly grew to become one of my favorite characters in the film. Long isn’t just a magical dragon, he has his own motivations that color the story and that creates a completely different relationship between Din and Long than what exists between Aladdin and the Genie. It’s a brilliant twist on this kind of story actually, and I’m glad I stuck with the film to see how this story arc played out.
Another thing I love about Wish Dragon is how this story puts a platonic twist on the “boy wants girl” story trope. When I first heard of this film and realized there was a young man and young woman involved, I rolled my eyes and thought “here we go, another YA animated romance film. Next!” And then I saw the part in the trailer where Din admits that he does NOT want Lina to fall in love with him, he just wants her back as his best friend. And that made my jaw DROP. That….you don’t see that in stories, or at least you didn’t until now. It was so refreshing to see a story where romance is NOT the ultimate goal of these magic wishes (another key difference from Aladdin).
And then there’s the film’s themes about telling the truth and friendship. Of course the most important theme in this film is friendship and how it is one of the most important things you can have, even more than money or fame. But…at the same time there’s an almost equal emphasis on telling the truth, be it about what you really want in life or being honest about who you really are. You need to be honest with yourself and the world about what you really want, at least that’s what I gathered after watching this film.
As a quick side note, I might also say that Wish Dragon also has a smaller lesson embedded in it, that being “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” It’s a lesson you don’t see implemented consistently with magical wish-granting stories, but Wish Dragon does make good use of it in this film, and Long even snarks about how one should “be careful what you DON’T wish for” in reference to this idea.
Now, as much as I ended up loving Wish Dragon, it does take a little while to get going. I beg you to be patient with the film’s first act because once things are properly set into motion, the story is a lot of fun. Other than that, I have no real complaints about this film. The animation is smartly done and the music, as I learned from talking to the film’s composer, is indeed a perfect blending of East and West.
Despite some minor flaws and a slow start, Wish Dragon proved itself to be everything I was promised and more. It proves a story like this doesn’t need romance to work and it also rams the lesson home that money is NOT everything nor is being rich everything it’s cracked up to be. As the credits rolled, I found myself more than happy with what I’d seen and I happily recommend checking this film out on Netflix.
Let me know what you think of Wish Dragon on Netflix in the comments below and have a great day!
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