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Aiming directly for a major market rarely targeted by Hollywood, the Walt Disney Company teamed with Hong Kong effects house Centro Digital Pictures to make a Chinese film.
A live-action fantasy with copious amounts of CGI, Magic Gourd tells the story of Raymond Bao ("Wang Bao" in the original, played by Qilong Zhu), a lazy 11-year-old boy.
Film criticism involves discussing the good and bad qualities of a motion picture, but The Secret of the Magic Gourd changes my job description by having virtually no strengths to praise.
Viewers will be sure to catch a touch of the makers' amnesia because this is some extremely forgettable stuff. Although Disney has entrusted the translation to Rick Dempsey, the man praised for the English versions of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films, the results are inevitably more incongruous here. Next comes the game "Too Many Toys!", a simple shape-matching activity in which you have to choose the toy that fits in a crate hanging outside the window. Last is a music video (4:08), partially excerpted in the previous featurette, identified only in Chinese.
Earning some creativity points, the main menu complements a tiny montage of clips with a desk of animated antics featuring the film's characters and drawings. Fantasy cinema at its blandest, The Secret of the Magic Gourd may keep the 6-and-under crowd mildly diverted, but will fall flat for most everyone else.
Unless your curiosity and taste for bad dubbed movies get the better of you, you'll be fine passing on this disc. While his parents are out of town, Raymond makes the acquaintance of Bailey, an enchanted, talking gourd. He soon sees it in use when the sky fills with fish and he gets to take a flight in a little ship with his new pal. The set-up of child and fantastic friend is familiar, but the didactic execution seems more conducive to a short film or a repetitive TV series.
I'd be shocked if I could tell you more than five facts about this movie in about six months.
While the studio has done the favor of including the original Mandarin soundtrack as well as a Hong Kong-friendly Cantonese version, neither is of any use unless you can understand the languages. The colorful and flexible digital persona of the title is voiced by Corbin Bleu, the curly-haired one of the High School Musical gang. Watching one of the Chinese tracks with English subtitles is a challenge from the get-go, particularly since the former open with English dialogue in a worldly dream sequence. Given ample time to perform the ten matches, most players won't find this challenging in the slightest. Following the standard formula of clips, talking heads, and some B-roll footage, the piece tackles the nature of production, the characters, casting, and music. On Page 2 of the Sneak Peek menus, additional previews promote Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition, Bolt, Schoolhouse Rock!
A Disney Movie Rewards code and Blu-ray ad booklet are all you'll find inside the slipcovered black keepcase.

Perhaps some flavor is lost in translation, but this is the only way non-Chinese speakers can experience the movie on Disney's Region 1 DVD.
A creature of fables (the very ones Raymond dismisses as mere make-believe when Grandma tells his little sister), the yellow fruit is willing and able to make every one of Raymond's wishes come true. Light on imagination and heavy on its one central moral, the film spins one predicament after another without creativity, advancement, or humor.
One of the five will no doubt involve the dreadful animation, which pales considerably in comparison to today's Hollywood output. The only subtitle track offered is the one transcribing the default English dub for the hearing impaired (complete with sound descriptions). Dealt with in the greatest detail are the visual effects and the reality of having to act against nothing. Of course, American audiences are an afterthought on this production, made in and for China as a relatively unprecedented localization push. It's as if in adapting the source, a 1958 fairy tale by Zhang Tianyi, the writing process consisted of raising a number of potentially amusing scenarios and then forgetting what made them amusing while sloppily putting them down on paper. That's unfortunate, since one imagines some pretty substantial differences to exist on a film created for a culture distant from ours. The rich colors and sharp picture are almost on par with one of Disney's US productions, and the cinematography is better than most, making the budget CGI all the more off-putting. It will have you reaching for your remote on a fairly regular basis to adjust volume levels.
The movie may not have met expectations there, but it did turn a profit, thus paving the way for a second venture in the forthcoming Touch of the Panda. That's because the magic gourd's notion of help yields disappointment and embarrassment such as Raymond eating chess pieces, ending up in the school swimming pool, getting chased by a huge dinosaur within a movie, and having a toy store's entire inventory invade his home.
That surprises since Centro specializes in visual effects and has done so for more than a dozen years, with a resume that includes Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, the original Bangkok Dangerous, and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies. Furthermore, the mix makes minimal use of the surround channels, opting for subtle reinforcement when grandiose visuals suggest something more potent.
Chinese characters provide the lyrics onscreen, so if you're fluent, you might be able to sing along. Were the fantastic's disconnect from Raymond's China universe a deliberate creative choice, that might have flied. A bad joke and quite likely a surprise for parents who buy this on a store-browsing whim, as the package takes pains to hide the fact that this is a Chinese film. Otherwise, you can just enjoy broadening your horizons with an item unlike Disney's typical music video inclusions.

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