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Review: Chinese animation box-office sensation ‘Ne Zha’ brings empowering message to America

Nezha, a literal demon child, in the animated film “Ne Zha.”
Prophecy says this child will bring destruction upon the world, in “Ne Zha.”
(Well Go USA)

It’s no mystery why “Ne Zha,” a 3D, computer-generated epic fantasy about a demon child whose fate was to not accept his fate, recently bucked the odds to become the highest-grossing animated film ever released in China, toppling “Zootopia.”

Grafting familiar Disney and DreamWorks tropes onto a tapestry of traditional Chinese legend and lore (the plot is loosely based on a Ming Dynasty-era shenmo novel), the adventure entertains with a title character who could be the spawn of Chucky and Stitch, from “Lilo & Stitch.”

In actuality, the impish Nezha (voiced by Lyu Yanting) was birthed from a heavenly pearl but destined by prophecy to bring destruction to the world, much to the anguish of his protective earthly parents (Lu Qi and Chen Hao), who are torn between giving their shunned son a “normal” childhood and allowing him to realize his true potential.

A man with his head bowed carries a tray of food between two green creatures in the animated movie “Ne Zha.”
A scene from "Ne Zha."
(Well Go USA)
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Writer-director Jiao Zi, in his feature-length debut, may demonstrate an evident weakness for CG excess and bodily functions, but he’s also intent on delivering more than simply “How to Train Your Demon.”

Residing just beneath all the visual razzle dazzle is a stirring message of empowerment. “If fate isn’t fair, fight it till the end,” rasps the pint-sized Nezha, whose universal rallying cry to the oppressed reverberates far beyond the boundaries of his 11th century village.

'Ne Zha'
In Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: AMC Santa Anita 16, Regal Edwards Alhambra Renaissance, AMC Puente Hills 20

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