Judge Dan Mancini once made a wish upon a curcurbita.
The magic gourd can come to your rescue.
Based on a Chinese fairy tale written by Tianyi Zhang, The Secret of the Magic Gourd is the story of a lazy elementary school student named Raymond (Wang Bao in the original Chinese) who has no reason to believe his grandmother's tales of a magic gourd that can grant all of your wishes until he meets the gourd, named Bailey (Bao Hu Lu in the original Chinese), face to face. Raymond uses Bailey to realize his dreams of being a star on the school swim team, building a dog-shaped robot that can take all comers in a classroom robot battle, and possessing all of the toys in a local toy store. When Raymond's reputation is nearly ruined because Bailey grants a wish to fill in the answers to a math test by literally lifting them from one of Raymond's classmate's, Raymond begins to realize that it's better to work hard for your achievements than to have them handed to you.
The Secret of the Magic Gourd is the fruit of a collaboration between Hong Kong visual effects house Centro, Disney, and the Chinese Movie Company. It's also Disney's first venture into combining live action with CG animation. The results are mostly a success. The computer animation is decent, though not photo real. Animated characters and objects have a slightly soft and rubbery appearance, but it works because everything is supposed to be an extension of Raymond's vivid imagination. The story is charming, sweet, and offers a solid moral lesson, even if elements of the tale don't translate all that smoothly for western audiences. Raymond may be a lazy kid by Chinese standards, but not by America's. He dresses is a button-down school uniform, doesn't play video games, and spends his time imagining that he's an astronaut saving a space mission gone awry. In other words, he's a well-behaved, normal little kid. Raymond's normalcy means that the film lacks dramatic tension. There's never much sense that the boy needs to learn anything but a minor lesson. Still, whether he's flying in a bulbous cartoon airplane or watching fish rise from a lake and swim through the air, Raymond's adventures with Bailey are whimsical and fun.
Disney's Region 1 release of The Secret of the Magic Gourd opts for an English dub, featuring High School Musical's Corbin Bleu as Bailey, over the original Mandarin. As previously mentioned, the character's names are anglicized. All of this might be annoying if we were talking about an art house flick, but since this is a movie for young children, the new language track is entirely appropriate. The dub is top-notch in terms of both performance and sound design. Dialogue doesn't always match the actors' lip movements, of course, but the dialogue replacement is subtle enough that the mismatches aren't all that distracting. The presentation is a Dolby 5.1 mix with plenty of volume and detail. As an added bonus, 5.1 mixes of the original Mandarin track as well as a Cantonese dub are included. In terms of audio quality, all three mixes are essentially identical. Unfortunately, there is only one English subtitle option—a Subtitling for Deaf and Hard of Hearing track that follows the English audio track right down to the anglicized names. It's not a great track for English-speaking viewers who want to experience the movie in its original language.
The movie is presented in a wonderfully colorful transfer at its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. The image is smooth, detailed, and entirely free of grain. Digital artifacts are controlled and minimal. The movie looks so good that the CG animation doesn't quite achieve the same depth and presence as the live action elements. Again, since the animation acts as an extension of Raymond's imagination, these limitations are easily ignored. They give the movie a fine, stylized look.
In addition to the feature, the DVD offers a 28-minute making-of documentary that covers everything from Tianyi Zhang's original novel, to the casting, the animation, and the assistance Disney provided in improving the movie. The featurette is presented in Chinese, subtitled in English. "Too Many Toys!" is an interactive game that young children may enjoy. There's also a bloopers reel and a Chinese-language music video for the song "World of Wonder" from the feature.
The Secret of the Magic Gourd may be a predictable kid's movie right down to its sappy ending, but that doesn't diminish its whimsical charm, stylish production values, or family-friendly moral.
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