Film Review: Big Fish & Begonia

This elaborarte cartoon fable is often wondrous and beautiful to look at, but is burdened by a top-heavy plot that often defies logic and clarity.
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Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun’s Big Fish & Begonia centers around Chun (Guanlin Ji), a teenage girl existing in a special wonderland that controls the tides and seasons of Earth. Transforming herself into a red dolphin, she travels through a magical portal to this other world, where she falls in love with a fisherman, Kun (Timmy Xu), who dies saving her life. Chun sets about resurrecting him, and their relationship spurs a devastating collision between her world and his. She is ultimately forced to choose between Kun and her family and home.

Confession: The above is a simplification of probably the most convoluted plot upon which an animated feature was ever hung, incorporating elements from ancient Chinese legends and recent news events, with heavy nods to Frozen and The Little Mermaid as well. Our best advice to you is to not sweat working out what exactly is happening at any given moment and just enjoy this kaleidoscopic cartoon ride, filled with supernatural images of dolphins flying through the water and the air; huge door knockers to secret kingdoms that are really talking boars’ heads; and multitudes of enchanted mice inspiring both admiration and revulsion. Also on deck are elderly mentor figures like a flirtatious old crone who has that army of rodents at her beck-and-call, a scarily intense one-eyed soothsayer, and Chun’s sage grandfather, whose long strands of his white hair and beard are carried aloft by darting birds that transform them into a modish turban for his head.

Along with all the dazzling animated phenomena on display, the film is also an ecological plea for the future and the safeguarding of dolphins, who are, ironically, somehow the least appealing part of the mix. With their streamlined, cutesy antics—sometimes even bestowing kisses on the protagonists’ blissfully thrust-out lips—they are simply too much of a precocious muchness. (The hideous spectre of that purple menace, Barney, often springs to mind as you watch their endless grinning frolicking.) And apart from Grandpa, the rendering of the human characters, contrasted against so much scenic beauty, is uninspired. They fall into that typical huge-eyed anime category we’ve seen in countless other Asian animated features, making you dearly wish this overworked template could be cast aside and Chinese cartoon characters finally made to look Chinese.

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