I don’t have extremely high expectations from animated children/family films. Even the titans of American animation, Pixar, have been hit-or miss in recent years, often making films that feel more designed for success than creative risks (which was not always the case). Add to that my growing impatience with the manner in which Chinese cinema has been dumbed down in the past decade, while the industry has steadily been rewarded for this behavior in the same manner as Hollywood has with their endless stream of brainless sequels and reboots (and the fact that I used their nonsense word rather than ‘remake’ shows the influence of their idiocy), and you will understand why I feel hesitant to praise the mild artistic success of Ne Zha. While it is certainly admirable that China has entered into the world of internationally viewed animated films, the result feels more like something I would have expected from a children’s TV network than a narrative I felt obliged to see in theaters. Like much of the entertainment fed to younger audiences these days, the message feels obvious and the execution unimpressive.
The process of reviewing recent Chinese releases (particularly blockbusters) is becoming somewhat redundant. With each film, I find myself criticizing the same two points; bad effects and worse nationalism. And with their industry quickly surpassing Hollywood as the most profitable, there are absolutely no incentives for them alter the formula I am just as quickly tiring of. Even with the dramatic retelling of historical events, it is not uncommon for there to be an overreliance on poorly executed CGI. The Climbers insists on making its characters inhumanly heroic in their abilities, which is almost as ridiculous as the transparent Chinese nationalism that runs through every scene of dialogue. It almost seems as though the absurd abilities the CGI gives the heroic characters is meant to solidify this idea that Chinese patriotism is paired with superhuman abilities. In a genre film, this could be forgiven as escapism, but in The Climbers, it is only in service of bad melodrama.