Meryl Streep's unmistakable narrative voice soothes us into this animated tale, setting up a false sense that this originally Chinese-language movie is going to be as good as she is. Stellar talents have lent their voice talents to The Guardian Brothers, and the contributions of Edward Norton, Mel Brooks, Mike Birbiglia, Bella Thorne, Dan Fogler, and Nicole Kidman help mask the disjointed, illogical allegory about, well, it's hard to say what. The Weinstein Company served as producers, perhaps helping to lure the American cast, but so many oddities make this movie more of a puzzle than an entertainment. The rest of the credits -- including director, writer, and animators -- boast mostly Chinese names, and Chinese writing appears on posters and menus throughout the movie, which is why it feels like a truly strange choice by the Chinese filmmakers to draw most of the main characters as decidedly Caucasian.
Equally mystifying is the way guardian spirit Yu lei persists in the quest to release the all-powerful super evil spirit Nian, the purpose of this folly being to reunite the human and spirit world in harmony. No one watching this is going to buy that crazy idea, yet it's the sustaining theme of the movie. In order to accomplish his mission, Yu lei must unearth ancient secret hiding places, and he does so with remarkable ease, as if he'd looked up the locations on Google. In short, beautiful animation and great voice performances seem utterly wasted on a badly told, logic-challenged story. The fact that the most powerful, most gigantic evil force on Earth turns out to be scared of fireworks just caps the absurdity of the entire enterprise. Some of these issues may relate to the fact that the Chinese language version was longer.