Ne Zha is a new animated movie from China. It tells the story of Ne Zha, a character from Chinese (or Indian if you want to go further back) mythology. The first half of the film was pretty boring and most of the jokes fell flat. I enjoyed the second half though because it goes full on Japanese shounen anime with a little bit of the family and self determination themes that were somewhat reminiscent of Kung Fu Panda.
Ne Zha takes place in ancient China. The deities of that time and place seal away a demon’s energy into a two pearls, one good and one evil. The evil energy is placed into an infant who is destined to die in three years. The movie centers on this infant and his efforts to resist his evil nature and his inevitable death.
The movie follows the very formulaic Hollywood animated movie formula. Act one is light and comedic. Unfortunately, most of the jokes and dialogue here were cheesy and not very funny to me. Act two continues this pattern of unfunny jokes until it introduces the character of Ao Bing. That’s when things start getting interesting and more heart felt. It is only in the final act where I felt myself engaged by the story. They start leaning into the familial love themes and how one determines their own destiny. I’m a sucker for those kind of ideas.
This last portion of the movie is also when they go full anime shounen action. Where Kung Fu Panda was very reminiscent of old Chinese martial art movies, this just felt like I was watching Naruto fight Sasuke or Goku fight Vegeta. The very last fight scene felt like I was watching Goku and Vegeta having an energy blast contest where the person screaming the loudest wins. Not all that creative, but entertaining nonetheless.
Judging the visual quality of this movie is not going to be fair from me since I just watched Frozen 2. Whatever narrative flaws Frozen 2 had, it was a visual, artistic and technological marvel. Ne Zha cannot compare. You get the feeling that a big budget was thrown at this movie, but it lacks the detail and artistic direction that you’d get from an American or Japanese animation studio. It still looks pretty good.
The voice acting is highly dependent on what is your first language. I watched the Mandarin Chinese version with English subtitles. I found it mostly jarring, but many of the more emotional moments did get through to me. If you do not speak Chinese, I suggest you watch a dub. The English dub is particularly good and in my opinion as someone whose first language is English, the superior version. Here’s a trailer to make up your own mind. The Mandarin Chinese version is posted at the top.
Additionally, the main music used during the fight scenes sounds a lot like the theme song for the Mortal Kombat movies. Take from that what you will.
Overall, this was a somewhat entertaining movie that reminded me of a lot of animated movies that I’ve already seen. It’s not all that original in terms of plot or themes. The visual are good, but not as good as the best stuff coming out of America or Japan. It looks like something as good as a Riot Games animation, but not as detailed or as thoughtful as something from Diseny/Pixar or Dreamworks.
While I was sort of entertained from this film, I’m more looking forward to Jiang Ziya, which seems to me some sort of sequel taking place in the same universe as this movie. The visuals from that movie look far more impressive than what I saw here. Here’s a trailer if you’re interested.