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The Secret of the Magic Gourd DVD Review

Buy The Secret of the Magic Gourd (Bao hu lu de mi mi) on DVD from Amazon.com The Secret of the Magic Gourd
Movie & DVD Details

Chinese Theatrical Release: June 29, 2007 / Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: John Chu, Frankie Chung / Writers: Zhiang Tian Yi (story), John Chu, Lam Kee To (screenplay); Rick Dempsey (English language adaptation)

Cast: Gigi Lueng (Miss Liu), Zhu Qi Long (Wang Bao), Zheng Jia Hao, Wang Jia Kun, Lao Yi Jia, Guo Kai Min, He Qing, Meng Qing, Hu Qian, Hu Qian Lin, Long De, Zhang Yao Dong, Ching Wan Lau (Cantonese voice of Bao Hu Lu the Magic Gourd), Peisi Chen (Mandarin voice of Bao Hu Lu the Magic Gourd)

English Voice Cast: Corbin Bleu (Bailey the Magic Gourd), Megan Hilty (Ms. Lee), Takayo Fischer (Grandma), Drake Johnston (Raymond), Aaron Drozin (John), Grace Fulton (Susie), Josh Reaves (Dan), Jeremy Shada (Sean)

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Mandarin, Cantonese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: January 27, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

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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. More than three years since cameras began rolling and 19 months since the film opened in Chinese theaters, Americans get to see the fruit of that collaboration
when The Secret of the Magic Gourd (Bao hu lu de mi mi in its native tongue) comes to Region 1 DVD next week.

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. While his parents are out of town, Raymond makes the acquaintance of Bailey, an enchanted, talking gourd. 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.

That's some exciting power, thinks Raymond. 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. Agreeing to Bailey's one term, Raymond promises to keep their arrangement secret. Before long, the old adage "Be careful what you wish for" comes into play. 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.

Lazy dreamer Raymond (Wang) Bao is the protagonist of Disney Chinese fantasy film "Bao hu lu de mi mi", which you might prefer calling "The Secret of the Magic Gourd." Upon first encountering the titular Corbin Bleu-voiced fruit, Raymond (Qilong Zhu) is a little frightened.

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. 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. Light on imagination and heavy on its one central moral, the film spins one predicament after another without creativity, advancement, or humor. 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.

Viewers will be sure to catch a touch of the makers' amnesia because this is some extremely forgettable stuff. I'd be shocked if I could tell you more than five facts about this movie in about six months. One of the five will no doubt involve the dreadful animation, which pales considerably in comparison to today's Hollywood output. There's no believability or depth to the computer creations. That surprises since Centro specializes in visual effects and has done so for more than a dozen years, with a resumι that includes Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, the original Bangkok Dangerous, and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies. Were the fantastic's disconnect from Raymond's China universe a deliberate creative choice, that might have flied. But it looks amateurish as the result of insufficient funds, resources, and skill.

Adding to the film's problems is one which applies to Disney's North American DVD release. 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 only subtitle track offered is the one transcribing the default English dub for the hearing impaired (complete with sound descriptions). That's unfortunate, since one imagines some pretty substantial differences to exist on a film created for a culture distant from ours.

Bailey the Magic Gourd tags along with Raymond in the carrier of his bicycle. Raymond chastises militarily-dressed Bailey for leading all these crudely-animated CG playthings into his room.

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. The colorful and flexible digital persona of the title is voiced by Corbin Bleu, the curly-haired one of the High School Musical gang.
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Those dubbing the humans, who are generally unfamiliar even in the voice acting community, bring less enthusiasm to their parts. And as live-action dubs often go, this one amounts to somewhat of a joke. 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.


At least the pandering for American audiences stops short of pan and scan. Magic Gourd is seen in its native widescreen, 2.35:1 via the Super 35 process. The film's digital appearance is without any glaring imperfections. 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.

I've already addressed the DVD's biggest audio shortcoming above. 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. The English 5.1 track also annoys for being a member of the Peaks and Valleys club. It will have you reaching for your remote on a fairly regular basis to adjust volume levels. Furthermore, the mix makes minimal use of the surround channels, opting for subtle reinforcement when grandiose visuals suggest something more potent.

The screen-sharing figurines and subtitled remarks of Chinese managing director Stanley Cheung remind you that this is a Disney production. Should you know Mandarin, this is your chance to sing along with Mandopop princess Baby Zhang Hanyun on her "World of Wonder" music video. The animated main menu impressively makes use of characters, props, and other imagery from the film.


Four bonus features are found here. First up is an 85-second Bloopers reel. The hijinks here are like the ones Pixar used to make years ago,
only much less funny. Corbin Bleu voices the Magic Gourd, depicted as an actor playing a part.

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. Given ample time to perform the ten matches, most players won't find this challenging in the slightest. But at least it's not maddening like some of Disney's recent DVD games.

The final two bonuses fall under the Backstage Disney heading.

"Behind the Scenes with the Gourd" is an unexpectedly substantial making-of featurette (28:25) presented in Chinese with English subtitles. 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. Dealt with in the greatest detail are the visual effects and the reality of having to act against nothing.

Last is a music video (4:08), partially excerpted in the previous featurette, identified only in Chinese. The package and press materials call this end credits song "World of Wonder" and it is performed by Mandopop singer Zhang Hanyun, a.k.a. Baby Zhang. The teen girl reads a storybook about the film, which is also montaged. Chinese characters provide the lyrics onscreen, so if you're fluent, you might be able to sing along. Otherwise, you can just enjoy broadening your horizons with an item unlike Disney's typical music video inclusions.

FastPlay-enhanced, the disc opens with a general Disney promo followed by trailers for Pinocchio: Platinum Edition, Earth, Space Buddies, Oliver & Company: 20th Anniversary Edition, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, plus a Disney Movie Rewards promo. 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! Earth, and Disney Parks.

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. A Disney Movie Rewards code and Blu-ray ad booklet are all you'll find inside the slipcovered black keepcase.

Raymond looks at the tiny snorkeler he deems responsible for their unplanned, fully-clothed trip into the school pool. When it comes to crude CGI food in the air, Raymond is quite easy to please.


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. 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. Of course, American audiences are an afterthought on this production, made in and for China as a relatively unprecedented localization push. 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.

Unless your curiosity and taste for bad dubbed movies get the better of you, you'll be fine passing on this disc.

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Reviewed January 22, 2009.