Disney goes Chinese for the first time, by taking a successful movie made overseas in 2007 called Bao hu lu de mi mi and overdubbing it and renaming it The Secret of the Magic Gourd.
Too bad that with all the CG technology and imaginative gimmickry that this movie contains, the Disney techies can't sync up the dubbing and the mouth movements any better, so it still comes across as watching a kid moving his lips for a long time and then hearing "Gamera! Gamera!" come out, just like in the old days.
Nevertheless, popping open this DVD during a sleepover with five 6-and-7-year-old boys was the truest test of the magic of this movie. They loved it. They loved the exciting rocket-ship-rescue dream-sequence opening. They loved the fat green frog sidekick who doesn't really have much to do in the film. They loved the 11-year-old boy star of the movie, Raymond, played by Peisi Chen and overdubbed by Drake Johnston (no, you don't know either of them).
And, most of all, they loved the obnoxious talking yellow gourd that they ultimately wanted to make effigies of and pummel around the living room.
Raymond has a close group of friends at school, but he's known for being a bit lazy with his studies. (This is where a Communist civics lesson comes in, because ultimately Raymond's "group" is all penalized for Raymond's poor study habits.) Raymond's wise grandmother tells his little sister the legend of a magic gourd that grants wishes to little kids who need them. Just after Raymond dismisses the legend and goes fishing, he snags the magical gourd himself and discovers he can get whatever he wants.
The trouble is, just like any well-meaning genie, this one tries a little bit too hard and makes Raymond's life miserable. He wishes for help on his test at school and then gets accused of cheating. He wishes for all the toys in the world, and suddenly they all appear in his room. The gourd seems a bit too enthusiastic to please his master. The English voice-over of the magic gourd character is recognizable as the mop-haired Chad from the High School Musical movies, but my first-grader audience didn't make the connection.
The animation is beautiful, and early on there's a stunning sequence where the gourd makes beautiful big fish fly around Raymond as if he's in his own aquarium.
There are some cute bloopers among the extras, especially when the boy keeps threatening to split the gourd in two or smash it. The gourd is ultimately one of those cartoon characters you love to hate. And unfortunately, in the Games & Activities section of the bonus features, there's only a lame matching game rather than a gourd-smashing contest or something more fun.
Perhaps this won't be a crowd-pleaser for girls, or for anyone older than 10, but for a sleepover of first-grade boys, it's an action-packed and charming sure-fire hit.