Film Review: ‘The Dreams of Jinsha’

Isla Films
The magical land of Jinsha awaits a time traveler.

Feature effort by Chinese animators is long on design but short on story.

The hand-drawn fantasy adventure The Dreams of Jinsha represents a valiant effort by Chinese animators to catch up with their brethren in Japan, Europe and the U.S. It’s not easy, but animation is indeed blooming in China. So this feature, one of 15 to qualify for the animation Oscar, must be seen as a fledgling enterprise and by no means a polished work.

The film reportedly was budgeted at about $12 million, which would make it the most expensive Chinese animation film ever. The story’s strong emphasis on a boy’s spiritual growth and discovery of courage within himself is a fitting life lesson in a society of one-child families where, many older people feel, those children grow up selfish and ill-mannered.

Xiao Long (voiced by Xu Gang) is a mildly indolent, disrespectful student who suddenly time-travels back 3,000 years and arrives in the ancient kingdom of Jinsha. There he gets involved with a princess and her family but must face down dark forces. For Jinsha has welcomed him as a foretold alien whose appearance will trigger a catastrophic evil that only he can vanquish.

Under the direction of Chen Daming, who studied art direction in the Beijing Film Academy, the landscapes and atmosphere are painterly with an eye-pleasing color palette. Modern-day China is a picturesque cityscape of bright streets and storefront businesses, while Jinsha has ancient monuments, a magnificent palace, flowering fields and green valleys.

One also gets the sense that Chen has incorporated too many foreign elements. Its ancient Chinese world owes something to Disney’s Mulan, the enchantment in its natural world certainly echoes Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and the luminous giant with laser beams that destroy all in its path would not be out of place in any number of Japanese TV cartoons or sci-fi mangas.

But character drawings are rudimentary, and people’s faces lack expression. Given the richness of Chinese art and culture, the potential for Chinese animation seems boundless. Jinsha is a respectable early effort, but if Chinese animators wish to grow that business, films must aim at much more sophisticated stories while the animators must free up their imaginations.

Release date: Friday, Dec. 3 (Los Angeles)
Distributor: Hangzhou C Digital Production Co.
Director: Chen Deming
Producers: Su Xiaohong, Gu Guoqing
No rating, 85 minutes