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This family fantasy film has high production values, but the story, stretched to a full length feature, doesn’t really resonate.

DVD Review: The Secret of the Magic Gourd

Originally released in theaters in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore in 2007, The Secret of the Magic Gourd (Bao hu lu de mi mi) has been recently released on home video. This fantasy children’s film, based on a classic story written by Zhang Tianyi, represents Disney’s first co-production with China’s Centro Digital Pictures. The film has high production values and should entertain most younger viewers, but the story, stretched to a full-length, modern feature chocked with special effects and creative camera techniques, doesn’t really resonate enough for a high recommendation.

The story follows a young student named Raymond (Wang Bao in the Chinese version), who wants the best in life without putting forth any effort. This theme gets a bit heavy-handed in some areas, but once a magic gourd named Bailey (Ching Wan Lau in the Chinese version), voiced by Corbin Bleu, makes its appearance, the boy experiences a fantasy life where all his desires come true.

Raymond's personal situation takes a while to develop into an "ordinary family life meets extraordinary situation" template. Filmmakers miss a unique opportunity for a more dramatic and original depiction of Raymond's school life. The story glosses over real emotions of competitiveness and self-worth instead of injecting more powerful situations, which would develop Raymond's character more instead of creating more situational scenarios. This approach puts the focus on the gourd who makes a good impact though he appears surprisingly late in the story.

Thirteen-year-old Drake Johnson provides the English voice for Raymond, who lives with his sister and grandmother while his parents are away. Gigi Leung plays Raymond’s teacher Miss Liu. Raymond's classmates don't really get to see him with the gourd, but they do care enough to help him through some related consequences. The plot creates some playful and slightly odd moments when Raymond must keep the gourd secret, as promised. Tasks/situations, like toenail-clipping, can be odd or strikingly funny depending on your style of humor and even social culture.

Some mildly interesting bonus features includes created bloopers involving the gourd, a music video, a simple “Too Many Toys!” game and some nice behind-the-scenes involving the green screen special-effect sequences with a couple bonus minutes of unedited footage at the end. The home video version has English, Mandarin, and Cantonese language audio tracks. The movie, filmed in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, was a nice, all-ages experience, which showcased Chinese daily life and education. Recommended with some reservations and rated G for mild peril.

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