THE SECRET OF THE MAGIC GOURD is a mixture of Disneyesque proportions with heavy Chinese influences. Although not troubling in terms of entertainment, it is if you're in the entertainment industry. How far will we go to save an extra buck? The story itself does battle with inconsistencies and an incredibly simple ? if not downright ridiculous ? premise. It is the story of a boy and his ...well ...gourd. A magic gourd rumored to live not far from Bau Hu Lu (Chinese child star Peisi Chen) and spoken of in fable form by Bau's grandmother. The gourd, it is rumored, will grant any wish to whomever is its master. For Bau, who is lazy and wants nothing to do with his school work, it seems like a dream come true when he meets up with the Magic Gourd. But having all your wishes granted can turn to nightmares, as Bau learns. And the lesson is easily transparent for adults and kids alike. Perhaps too transparent.
Bau learns a few life basics by doing his own work and becoming a better person for it. No surprise.
One of the bigger story issues I had was the occasional incorporation of a frog-friend to the gourd who seemed to have no other purpose than to hop around and croak at us a few times. What gives? Nothing remotely challenging can be found in this hybrid Chinese/American fantasy.
Raymond Bao is your typical 11-year-old boy. He's Chinese, which makes him statistically typical. He's lazy and not interested in doing what it takes to be successful at whatever school wants him to do. He's heard the story of the Magic Gourd and of course wants to find it. As things turn out, it finds him.
Gourds are, as you will recall, basically hollow. This one is no exception, especially in the upper part, where the brains ought to be. It therefore never thinks wishes through, but grants them very literally, including brainless (of course) speculations as to what "master" really wants.
The results are naturally disastrous. Over and over and over ? and OVER ? again. You would certainly think somebody would catch on. The audience ought to right away, but most of reviews of this film seem to indicate a gourd-like quality in the reviewers. The gourd seems to have caught on in the end, sort of. Raymond catches on at last and gets rid of the gourd. He then actually works for a goal (winning a track meet), which of course he does because this is a Disney film. Not for Disney the moral complexity and ambiguity of trying to explain how it's all right to practice your guts out and still not quite make it.
I'm sure some of you are waiting for the other bits like subplots, subtexts, secondary plots, or anything to make this more than a very long 8-minute cartoon. Actually, "Magic Gourd" is even less complex than an 8-minute cartoon. Animated humor for children is most successful when it aims some of its content toward adult viewers. Adults need not apply here.
What we have here is a film that's got a moral point to hammer home, and hammer it does ? so much so that even the most retarded 3-year-old will get the point by the time the story's half-way done. This klutzy production has nothing on its ? um, ? mind but beating its little viewers about their collective heads with a single point. The lack of variety is positively stultifying. I was riveted to my seat with boredom. Any child with half a brain would be, too ? I would hope. Nobody, however immature, should be subjected to this nursery rhyme gone mad.
On the other hand, I can see how children might actually like things like this. The results from our schools indicate that the little troglodytes flee from mental challenges, despise learning, and are generally less attractive than the pre-Gourd Raymond Bao. This sort of explains why, for instance, the study of evolution is so unpopular in intellectually challenged areas such as the inbred South and the Midwest. It's so complicated and hard to understand ? like long division. It's so much easier to believe that some Magic Gourd in the sky made everything.
A boy learns the meaning of work after a magic gourd grants him anything he wants.