What happens when a young man is in love with a girl who, by social hierarchy, cannot reach, ending up finding a teapot inside which a millennial magical dragon lives, capable of fulfilling three wishes? We will have just described the plot of Aladdin, you might answer. Well, not second The Dragon of Desires, film produced by Sony Pictures Animation and distributed on the well-known streaming platform Netflix, which we will talk about today with our review.
Same story, another place
The story of The Dragon of Desires, as you have probably already guessed from the introduction, tries to resume that of the classic Disney Aladdin by revisiting it in a formula that aims to mix it with the folklore and settings of modern China. There is a little boy who lives in the slums of Shanghai named Din, who spends his childhood always in the company of There, a little girl from her neighborhood, going to class with her and playing in the Chinese streets. This at least until, one day, her father has to move for work, taking the family with him and causing the two young people to lose contact.
Time passes and now Din he became a 19-year-old boy, newly enrolled in college, who is saving up money to go and meet his old childhood friend for honor a promise that they had made before leaving, or to remain friends forever. The problem lies in the fact that the girl has become a career model and, thanks also to the work of her father, they live in the rich part of the city, almost unapproachable for someone of much lower rank like our protagonist. Fortunately, he appears to help the boy Long, a magical pink dragon that emerges from the inside of an old teapot and promises to fulfill three wishes.
But unfortunately there is never an end to trouble since too other people are looking for the dragon, and the leader of these is a fighter who has no qualms about achieving his goals. Din will therefore have to watch his back carefully if he wants to be able to make his dreams come true and at the same time prevent the teapot from ending up in their hands. The film will then continue with funny gags and skits interspersed with more serious and profound moments, especially towards the end of the film, trying toteach a solid morality about the real value of things and that you can’t put a price on human emotion since it fills you and makes your life shine.
All very nice, but where is the substance of The Dragon of Desires?
Let’s start with the positives of the review, the aesthetic sector of The Dragon of Desires is truly exceptional, certainly also thanks to the production at Sony Pictures Animations. Beautiful colors, smooth animations, and great photography that manages to represent both versions of Shanghai beautifully: both the “warmest” one of the popular neighborhoods, in which the film tries to highlight how close and in solidarity people are, always ready to lend a hand, and the coldest one in the residential and rich area of the city, where on the contrary there is a feeling of detachment and individuality, from which the film seems to try to distance itself as much as possible.
The problem comes when we begin to notice what the script for this film actually is and how the various characters have been characterized. The story is very banal and closely follows the one already known of Aladdin, but this may not be seen as a totally negative fact; on the contrary, it might be interesting to try to make it more modern and current, especially to entice children to see it. However, we cannot say the same with regard to the script and the dialogues of the characters, which sometimes are decidedly out of context and far too unrealistic even for an animated film.
Furthermore, the characterization of both the protagonists and the whole sector of secondary and antagonists, it’s a gigantic stereotype: every character, except in a few cases where you actually have a depth of thought, is incredibly flat and without any originality or thickness, doing away with all immersion in the events that are created gradually from the setting. Moreover, as if that were not enough, many of these stereotypes are also negative, sometimes leaving a wrong imprint on the moral of the story, especially when the film tries to transform into a positive and “good” someone who until a few seconds before appeared to be sneaky and unscrupulous.
In conclusion of this review, The Dragon of Desires very disappointed us since, although on paper it has a lot of potential, these are not exploited sufficiently. The technical sector is excellent, especially the visual one, leaving the viewer with beautiful images once the viewing is finished, but the screenplay and the writing of the characters do not stand up to comparison with the rest of the film, thus making everything look like a beautiful envelope, but empty of content. However, if you are interested in animated films, we recommend reading our review of Luca, the latest Pixar film released recently.