Charming characters, attractive settings, and universal messages balance a familiar storyline inspired by the same Chinese fable as Aladdin in this enjoyable animated film. Wish Dragon is propelled by the sweet relationship between its two main characters -- kind, generous 19-year-old college student Din, who has his whole life ahead of him, and cynical, sarcastic Long, who has already lived thousands of years. The film's illustrated Shanghai setting provides a lot to look at. Characteristic "shikumen" dwellings are overshadowed by a city shown growing up across the river as if in a time-lapse video. As Din flies around on Long's back, they weave through towers and clouds, soaring high above stalled traffic and interlaced bridges. An emotional sequence where the normally humorous Long recalls his sad life on earth is sketched in translucent outlines.
That scene, and a climax involving several deadly fights for the teapot and control of the magic dragon, are a bit darker than the rest of this fun, light, and positive story. Some viewers might have wished for a little less action, though the film's makers suggest some of the kung fu fight scenes were made in tribute to producer Jackie Chan. There's humor sketched into the art, like when Din is kicked out of a fancy clothing store called "Nomani" and goes to another called "Nomoney." The action has similar fun asides, like when Din falls from a rooftop and lands on a toilet, then kindly stops to put the seat down before moving on, or the goofy way one of the henchmen never takes his hands out of his pockets and does everything with his legs and feet. A running joke involves Long discovering modern-day contraptions like a cell phone, airplanes, TV sets, traffic, and delicious but shrimp-free shrimp chips. These are all part of the charm, and the blending of tradition and modernity, in Wish Dragon.