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The Secret of the Magic Gourd - family and children's DVD / foreign language and international DVD / fantasy DVD review
THE SECRET OF THE MAGIC GOURD Rated G by the MPAA curledupdvd.com rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Peisi Chen, Corbin Bleu, Ching Wan Lau, Gigi Leung, Qilong Zhu
Directors: John Chu, Frankie Chung   Distributor: Walt Disney Video
DVD release: 27 January 2009   Runtime: 85 min. (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD features: Audio tracks (5.1 Dolby Digital Surround - English, Mandarin, Cantonese), Subtitles (English for the Hearing Impaired), Too Many Toys (Multi-level game), Behind the Scenes with the Gourd, Bloopers, Music Video ("World of Wonder" - Chinese version)

This is the first live-action/CGI movie by Centro, worked in tandem with China Movie Company Ltd. and Disney Studios, made in Mandarin and later dubbed in English. The Chinese cast included Peisi Chen as Bao Hu Lu ("Raymond" in the English version) Ching Wan Lau as the Chinese voice of the Magic Gourd (Corbin Bleu voices the Gourd in the English version), Gigi Leung as Miss Liu, and Qulong Zhu as Wang Bao. The original fairytale/fable is Chinese as well, written by favored children's author Tianyi Zhang. Although the tale is delightful, charming and universal in its message, the dubbing and ongoing facilitation of bringing a Chinese favorite to the screen and then trying to market it to English-speaking audiences fails to live up to its promise.

Disney audiences, and indeed most Western viewers, are used to more flash and excitement in their movie stories. Yes, the story of the Magic Gourd who grants ALL the wishes of the child who owns it has great appeal - what child, of any nationality, wouldn't like every day to be Christmas? Yet the tale moves slowly - with the grace and simplicity of the East, rather than the hurley-burley of the West. It seems as if the children in the movie could have retained their Chinese names without sacrificing plot line or character development and would be more in line with acknowledging the Chinese-American population as well.

The animation and CGI is done with the stylishness of a Disney production, which blends well with the Oriental flavor of the work. The scene where Raymond discovers the Magic Gourd dangling at the end of his fishing pole starts out the story with a magical, enchanting approach. But Raymond (his American-edition name) comes across as a lazy, spoiled brat, which may be part of the point of the story but still acts as fingernails on a chalkboard for any adult watching the film. The mundane fish that come flying out of the lake upon Ray's wish are each unique and beautiful, and they fill the air with great CGI effects. Thus begins Raymond's path to self discovery, and the hapless gourd learns how to be a "good" Magic Gourd.

The classmates of the lazy boy also pay the price when their school grades suffer because the group work they do lapses because of Raymond's lazy streak. The school scenes will probably be a bit hard for 11-year-old Westerners to grasp as well: the children are well-behaved (for the most part) in the classroom, studious, respectful and earnestly interested. The inborn individuality of American students would perhaps benefit from understanding and appreciating the differences here, but it isn't likely to happen with this animated/live action offering.

Other good touches are in the personality of the Gourd: his magic may be wonderful, but his understanding of what Raymond wants is flawed, leading to some of the funniest moments in the movie. When Ray pitches a hissy fit, wanting to go in and watch a movie that is sold out, he tells the Gourd, "get me in the movie, get me in the movie!" Lo and behold, the Magic Gourd does just that - one minute Ray is standing in the aisle with his popcorn and the next he is running madly away from a ferocious dino with nasty sharp teeth - "IN" the movie, indeed!

The release of this movie in the United States certainly arose from good intentions, but The Secret of the Magic Gourd was created for Chinese audiences. Even with the universality of the lessons to be learned, it simply doesn't resonate fully with this American reviewer. The special features portions of the disk do help the Western viewer to appreciate the Chinese approach and philosophy, but they are directed more to adults or older children who can understand the work involved in CGI, and in the creation of a combination live action/CGI film. In the West, I would recommend this movie for those 10 and under, although watching as a family and discussing the added features would certainly bring appreciation and understanding to older children.
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reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
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