“The Magic Gourd has magical powers. He can carry you high up to the sky, right up to the clouds, where they feel just like cotton candy. Stick out your tongue and they taste like cotton candy. That’s the power of The Magic Gourd. If you become the Gourd’s master, he can grant you anything you wish for…”
Disney films have always had a world wide appeal. Children everywhere on the planet have grown up with the same classic images that we have in the United States. The language might not be the same, but the message and the magic has always been there to discover. So I guess it makes some sense that the studio might begin to do some international joint projects intended originally for children of another country and culture. Would the wide appeal translate in reverse? Could a film based on a Chinese story, made in China with Chinese actors, be able to bring the magic to American audiences as well? After watching The Secret Of The Magic Gourd, I don’t think I’ve found my answer, at least I hope not.
One day, Raymond is chasing frogs and fishing. He has a special spot deep in a beautiful bamboo forest. Here he finds peace away from the bullying kids he attends school with. Suddenly he hooks something unusual with his pole. You guessed it, it’s the Magic Gourd. The Gourd explains that he will grant any wish so long as Raymond continues to keep his existence a secret. Raymond asks for such things as a pail of fish and the ability to fly in The Gourd’s strange flying machine. He impresses the other kids with his odd assortment of fish. As the time goes on, Raymond learns he must be careful of not only his expressed wishes, but even his most subtle desires. It seems our friend, The Magic Gourd, is an ambitious fellow who attempts to anticipate his master’s desires. The results are usually disastrous. Eventually Raymond learns to rely on himself and gains the self confidence to assert himself more.
There’s a lot of promise and good will in this kind of an idea. Americans are notoriously less tolerant of other cultural offerings, and who better to soften that blow than Walt Disney Studios? The cooperation does deliver a charming tale, but it appears to lack any of the emotion that these kinds of films are usually noted for. The child appears almost matter of fact in his discovery. The Gourd character itself looks more like a soft serve cone than any kind of gourd I’ve ever seen. The entire affair seems all too mundane, considering the great mystery the film had the potential to deliver. Surprisingly, the American dub was actually pretty solid work, but it wasn’t enough to breathe any new life into this apparently ancient tale.
The special effects are also a bit on the non-impressive side. I suspect that most of this was farmed out to Asian houses, and they don’t stand up to the Disney/Pixar animation standard at all. The green screen flight Raymond takes on the flying contraption is one of the worst integrations of this type I’ve seen. There are some bright spots. When Raymond asks for fish, a very colorful collection of the animals flies around his head. The integration isn’t that remarkable, but the animation here does deliver a rainbow of scaly delight. Overall, I think you’ll find the film tends to fall flat and will likely not be very memorable once it’s done. A very forgettable affair, indeed.
The Secret Of The Magic Gourd is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. One area this presentation does excel at is the range of colors during some of the more magical scenes. The aforementioned fish flight is dazzling in its color, vivid display, and sharpness. The print is in good condition. Black levels are merely average, but the film rarely ventures into that territory. It’s a very bright image, appropriate to its core audience of children.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is another rather mundane affair. The mix never expands the magical aspects of the film. There is very little to be heard out of the rear speakers. Dialog is perfectly placed, but there is no punch to the presentation. Forget your subs; the sound engineer did. It might be adequate for what it is, but it does nothing to immerse you into the experience.
Bloopers: This is a very short made up collection of missteps.
Behind The Scenes: This feature is in Chinese with English subtitles. It does give you some good in-depth material on the traditional story and its origins. Most of it ends up just retelling the plot.
Music Video: The song World Of Wonder by a young Asian girl complete with animated f/x. It’s very green.
I know these things are intended for a pretty young audience. Ordinarily that doesn’t present much of a problem for me, because I stopped growing emotionally at about 12. Still, I found it very hard to take this journey. It’s really too bad, because I’d like to see outfits like Disney take these kinds of chances again. Unfortunately this is nothing more than the old children’s wishes come true fairy tale. “I’ve heard it a million times.”