Whether any animation industry can ultimately compete with Japanese anime and the Disney/Pixar-led American juggernaut remains to be seen, but for now "The Dreams of Jinsha" at least marks a painstakingly if awkwardly assembled hand-drawn entry from Chinese animators.
Supposedly the priciest animated film ever produced in China (yet still a fraction of what something like "Toy Story 3" costs), it attempts a wistful merging of childlike cuteness, anime-inspired fantasy adventure and cautionary fable in the story of a self-obsessed, modern-day city boy who is whisked 3,000 years back to an ancient kingdom named Jinsha. There, young Xiao Long encounters a peaceful people, a nice princess, an elephant god and a lush, pristine natural landscape, which for moviegoers amounts to a methodically flipped pictorial of beautifully rendered (though somewhat static) panoramas of rapturous color.
Happy primary hues give way to dark, stained overlays, though, when evil forces — namely nebulous black swarms and a featureless, laser-shooting giant — transform the countryside into a wasteland. But what appears to be an "Avatar"-ish eco-allegory feels more like an excuse to revel in the imagery of destruction and for the filmmakers to squeeze in a lesson in personal courage and sacrifice in the face of (hint, hint, Chinese audiences) massive change.
It gives these "Dreams" a slight cultural curiosity, but hardly sets the film apart as transcendent animation.
"The Dreams of Jinsha." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Playing at Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.