Directed by Chris Appelhans, Wish Dragon follows Din (Jimmy Wong), a teenage boy with his head in the clouds who dreams of reuniting with an old friend, Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). As a child, she had been his only friend – until she left for the big city and began a successful career as a luxury brand model. Din is full of ideas as to how their first meeting in years might go, but the fact their lives have taken dramatically different turns is clear. That is, until Din is gifted with a Wish Dragon… and he knows precisely what to wish for.
Wish Dragon is a sweet story about the purity of friendship. For Din, their two separate worlds make no difference to him, because friendship is friendship and they made a promise to keep it that way. This wonderful and perhaps naïve look at the world is extended to the moral of the story: that money and status can’t buy you happiness – a concept demonstrated by the Wish Dragon himself, Long Zhu (John Cho), once an Emperor and now cursed for his greed and selfishness, as well as those who desperately search for the Wish Dragon as a shortcut to solving their problems.
This animated comedy-adventure focuses on the most important parts of life: family, friendship, loyalty, and platonic love. These are the things that end up saving the day.
The casting is well executed. Wong is refreshing and believable as the innocent, determined, and often sarcastic 18-year-old Din, while Cho’s suffering Long provides a great foil to the film’s protagonist. Constance Wu is the emotional mother who may be just a little too involved, while Ronny Chieng as the Pipa God is a film highlight.
The animation is wonderfully vibrant, establishing a strong sense of place. Namely, the divide between the sleek and busy skyline of a Shanghai-looking city, and the small village seemingly lost in time, visually establish the separation between Li Na and Din’s worlds.
The music and score mirrors the setting, leaning into both traditional Chinese musical instruments (like the pipa) as well as popular, globalised music. These build on the setting and ground it in reality. A particular highlight is the end credit song by The Far East Movement and Tia Ray ‘Free Smiles’, which encapsulates the film very well, as well as offering a throwback to those nostalgic for the early 2000s.
Wish Dragon is a sweet story about the power of friendship and love in all its forms, making for a thoroughly enjoyable watch that can be returned to again and again.
Wish Dragon is out now on Netflix.