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Welcome to Animation Globe where Headstuff’s animation expert Joseph Learoyd analyses films of the form from around the world. This entry is on 2016 Chinese animation Big Fish & Begonia.
Written and directed by Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun, in Big Fish & Begonia, we get the delightful fantasy story of Chun, a mystical teenage girl who travels to see a human boy while in the form of a red dolphin. When chaos ensues, and the human boy – her love – drowns while trying to save her from a fishing net, the girl does everything she can to help him come back to life. She succeeds in the task. However, he comes back as a two-inch whale that needs to be cared for.
If you think this plot sounds wacky, you are right and it is tough to really explain the story without giving too much away. Instead, Big Fish & Begonia is one of those films you must just go into blind and experience. Yes, it’s a wild ride of weirdness but there’s also a beauty within it, one that captures the gorgeous aesthetic often associated with Chinese folklore and draws comparisons to the similarly stylish and mythology inflected output of Japanese animation studio heavyweights Studio Ghibli.
From the same studio that gave us The Legend of Korra, audiences are treated to a world that always conveys beauty and depth, whether it be in the human scenes to the stunning underwater visuals. The opening alone manages to ask viewers important questions while introducing them to the aquatic world of the rest of the story, lulling audiences into a peaceful tranquility. Meanwhile, music compliments the visuals in Big Fish & Begonia excellently. In fact, the movie is worth seeing just for the twinkling magical score alone.
Big Fish & Begonia grabs viewers emotions immediately, giving them strong, three-dimensional characters who emote and that they can empathise with. In many ways, Big Fish & Begonia feels like Spirited Away for China, a movie that despite its dense mythology and straight-up weirdness is heart-stirring and has important messages to say. To achieve this difficult balance, it signifies to the audience that a lot of time and effort went into this passion project.
Looking at the animation, we get a blended production that couples computer generated imagery and 2D anime-esque hand drawings. This symbiotic relationship that forms to weave the two styles together works to give audiences spellbinding, breath taking moments as solid character designs meet spectacular imagery. Words do not justify the aesthetic prowess of this film. From start to finish, you will be enthralled in this tale.
This film is well-paced and the English voice cast is solid. Yes, there are flaws. Certain plot elements are glossed over or not explained maybe as well as they could be. If you are not paying full attention or casually watching, it could be easy to blink and miss something important.
However, as I said earlier, Big Fish & Begonia is best experienced by throwing yourself into the deep end and living through the narrative alongside the characters. The more one invests in the weird wonderful world of the movie, the more they will be rewarded. This isn’t just any old animation. It is visual poetry that takes apart the fantasy genre and allows Westerners to taste Chinese folklore through a narrative that can emotionally move and capture them.
This film is a big fish in the ocean of animated cinema, one that will keep swimming for a long time to come.