I must admit, as a French Canadian, to having a great deal of fondness for animated films based on Chinese legends. I have Ciné-Cadeau to thank, a series of family films aired on Radio-Québec during the holidays since 1981. They opened my eyes with the 1979 animation “Le prince Nezha triomphe du roi dragon”, and I`ve sought them out since. (see here for English Wiki). White Snake had my attention from the moment I read the description.
I shoved my nostalgia aside to be able to appreciate the computerized animation, but I can’t deny I would have preferred the old fashioned animation styles. It did look absolutely lovely, vibrant landscapes and magical effects lit up beautifully. I did feel it was a tiny bit too Disney/Pixar-ish in some respects such as character design. Nothing against that style in particular, other than it would be nice to see more diversity.
Overall I have to say I adored this film. I was unfamiliar with the legend it was inspired from, so I was able to enjoy it from an unbiased point of view. It was wrought with emotions, silly and deep alike, and a few (though scarce) lighthearted moments. I would definitely enjoy watching this again, or even add it to my movie collection.
I`ll now set aside my rose-tinted glasses and give a deeper look, with a few light spoilers.
This is not a movie I would call “for all ages”. There is sensuality and partial nudity from the very start of the film. While it is not abused, it is certainly not discreet. I honestly even thought, at one early scene, that we were about to witness an incestuous lesbian love scene. But nope, just two sisters bathing naked in a stream together, being a bit “huggy and supportive”. Oddly the hetero “yes we are about to start the sex now” later in the film wasn’t anywhere near as sensual. Seems an odd choice.
As with any old folk tale, it had a slightly eerie feel, a magical wrongness. The script made no efforts to soften mature or scary subjects either, which just makes me think this movie wasn’t intended for children at all. Having researched a bit about the film after watching it, I found reviews were very mixed, for these very reasons. Several children saw it in theaters and it seemed to spark a bit of controversy. The 80s child in me however reveled in this.
I also learned that although this is clearly a movie about the creature “White Snake”, it is an entirely new tale, meant as a prequel to the original legend! 500 years in the past, to be exact. This was another interesting fact that people seemed divided about. For me personally, it just makes me want to see the original legend now. Especially since there is a 2011 live action version with Jet Li.
The only downsides this film had for me, and they aren’t really that bad, is the sometimes overly cheesy/mushy moments. To be expected, I suppose, in a “magic girl is shoved in human world, meets charmingly naive human boy” story. I also found it grew a little too “big” at the end battle. I’m not sure if it would have been better if it were realized a bit cleaner, but as it was I feel it would have gone over better on a slightly smaller scale, less grandiose. I was however pleasantly surprised with a very intense “omg the feels” moment near the conclusion. Did not expect to be moved at that point
So yes. Use your judgement before showing this to a young child, but if you’re watching it for yourself, I definitely thought it was worth it.