Let’s throw out the term “international animation.” What do you think of? Japan’s magically eloquent Studio Ghibli? Or perhaps the UK’s pleasantly quirky claymation studio, Aardman? Even France’s beautiful two-dimensional animation studio Folimage could come to mind. Mexico, however, hasn’t really produced much in the way of lasting animated films. Some of our best live action filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, whom have respectively won the Best Director Oscar in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017, hail from Mexico, but animation still hasn’t broken through. Admittedly, the first Mexican animated film I’ve seen, A Wizard’s Tale, isn’t exactly the form of Mexican storytelling I’ve gotten used to from the likes of the previously mentioned directors, it’s just as surreal, but not in a good way.
Terry is a young boy who is struggling to upkeep his deceased grandmother’s amusement park, Groovy Land. When he is whisked away by a dilapidated blimp he finds in the park one day to a magical kingdom, he soon finds himself embroiled in a feud between the royal Princess Dawn and the corrupted wizard known as The Grump. With newfound wizard powers, he must help Princess Dawn bring peace and happiness back to her kingdom.
Let’s talk about the good of A Wizard’s Tale first, because there are good elements here. The voice acting in the film, while not lining up with the lips of the characters (it’s dubbed, obviously, so there’s no harm in that), is quite good. Toby Kebbell and Lily Collins lead the cast as Terry and Princess Dawn, and despite whatever qualms I might have about the characters, the performances are quite fitting. Even Ian McShane’s turn as The Grump, however campy it may be (this is a kids movie, after all), is quite charming and funny to hear.
But so begin just some of the issues in watching A Wizard’s Tale. The first is that it finds itself to be much more charming than it is. The problem is that the film is in no way original, nor does it have any clever ways to spruce up tired material in the way that other animated films like it have done before. While the animation is certainly not terrible, and its “quirkier” elements give way to some…let’s call them “unique” characters, the film doesn’t piece things together into anything slightly cohesive.
A Wizard’s Tale doesn’t have anything interesting to say, so when it resorts to being quirky only for the sake of being quirky, it becomes more grating than it does entertaining. On top of all of this, stuff just straight up doesn’t make any sense. Why does there exist a world only populated by anthropomorphic balloons? Why are all these balloons hipster caricatures obsessed with social media? Why do the protagonists get high off of “oxygen” at a café strikingly reminiscent of marijuana cafés in Amsterdam? This all occurs within a three minute time frame, and leads into a battle sequence in which the hipster balloons battle The Grump with tweets and emojis, fittingly set to Nena’s “99 Luftballons” (the English version). The worst part about it is, no matter how batsh*t crazy it sounds, it’s not fun to watch.
Then there are the characters, whose motivations are often unexplained and characteristics are both childish and unrefined. Specifically in reference to Princess Dawn, while I hardly believe every female character in films aimed at children should be an ass-kicking superwoman, I also think that painting princesses and “girly girls” as vapid, self-centered, and ditzy damsels-in-distress is quite harmful. Constantly running away from fights and waiting for Terry to come and save her, Dawn isn’t a compelling character for girls to look up to, but neither is Terry for boys. It’s all a hodgepodge of strange caricatures that all feel half-hearted, at best.
I know what you’re thinking, “Hunter, it’s a kids movie, stop laying into it so hard.”
Sure, while I can only assume that the target demographic for A Wizard’s Tale is kids 5 and under, I don’t particularly find that to be a valid excuse for laziness in writing and a general disregard for quality. Films like Coco, The Red Turtle, and Kubo and the Two Strings all incorporate elements suited for all ages, from toddlers to seniors. This effort to invite audience members of all ages to the party, offering something different and substantial to every age group, has become a standard in animated films. It’s increasingly more noticeable and evident when heart hasn’t been put into something when films like A Wizard’s Tale (or any film at any budget level) fail to even grasp outside of the pre-kindergarten range of children.
And there’s what A Wizard’s Tale is missing most: heart. Most everything in this film feels strung together for the sake of eventually dropping on Netflix for parents to put on for their children to get them to settle down for 85 minutes while they try to get some work done. This isn’t a movie the whole family can enjoy. It’s simply a lazily written, quickly assembled piece that goes along without any charm or sense or heart. Films like this, for as easily likable as they can be, seriously break my heart when they end up this way.
Final Score: 1 out of 5.