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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ne Zha -- the visually dazzling animated origin story of a character who's well-known in Chinese mythology -- has positive underlying messages (including perseverance and self-control) but also lots of fantasy violence and some emotionally taxing scenes. Younger or more sensitive viewers may be upset by the threats to a toddler-age character and his parents' tangible fear, including heart-wrenching screams when they think he's died. Characters are punched, kicked, set on fire, thrown in the air or sea, strangled, stabbed, crushed, swarmed by bees, eaten by monsters, petrified, doomed by curses, and more. Language is mild but includes some taunting, lashing out, and potty talk, with words like "bullcrap," "moron," "wuss," "crapper," "hell," "bastard," and "idiot."
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What's the story?
Marked with a scarlet symbol on his forehead, NE ZHA (voiced by Yanting Lu) is born under a divine prophecy that he'll bring destruction to the world and then die on his third birthday. But, despite the curse, his parents love him unconditionally and will do anything to protect their son (who looks and acts older than his tender years) from his fate and nature. He also needs protecting from scared, distrusting villagers, as well as battling guardians whose immortality depends on the success or failure of the "evil" Ne Zha. The story is inspired by Chinese mythology and based somewhat on the book The Investiture of the Gods.
Is it any good?
This animated fantasy was a huge box office hit in its native China, and its empowering messages and stunning visuals will make it an engaging watch for fans of the genre. That said, the storyline could be initially confusing to audiences with no connection to the Chinese legend of the powerful but cursed boy (he's a very familiar figure in China, however, with this film serving as an origin story), and the endless action and violence might prove tedious for parents or more critical viewers.
But there are some very positive lessons here about fitting in, learning self-control, and believing in yourself and your family despite others' preconceived notions, prejudices, or bullying. There's also quite a bit of humor in some of the exaggerated characters and sillier sequences, as well as pathos in Ne Zha's relationships and his attempts to control his demon nature. And the animation is dazzling, particularly scenes involving a painted landscape that characters can only escape by painting their way out.
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the ancient Chinese myth of Ne Zha compare to its retelling in this film and/or other adaptations of it? Do you need to be familiar with the myth to appreciate or understand this film?
Does the animation in Ne Zha remind you of any other movies you've watched? How so?
Talk about the concepts of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy and how they play into the story of Ne Zha.
- In theaters: August 29, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: March 3, 2020
- Cast: Yanting Lu, Joseph, Mo Han
- Director: Yu Yang (as Jiaozi)
- Studio: Well Go USA Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 2, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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