Based on a Chinese myth, Big Fish and Begonia (2016) is a bright and vividly animated movie. Its otherworldly creatures, surreal visuals, and grand atmosphere might give the appearance of a sweeping epic. But for all its visual splendor, the plot feels disjointed and full of unfulfilled potential.
Directed and written by newcomers Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang, the film is adapted from the Taoist classic text, Zhanagzi. In a realm that exists beneath the human world, magical beings with a deep connection to nature, venture to the human world for a short time as a rite of passage. When sixteen-year-old Chun goes to leaves in the form of a red dolphin, her family warns her to stay away from humans. However, she becomes fascinated by a young boy. After he saves her life from a fishing net, the course of both their lives will be changed forever.
At first, Big Fish and Begonia does manage to immerse the audience with beautiful animation and a captivating set-up in its first act. The film builds a strange mystical world with demons and spirits through stunning visuals and a kaleidoscope of lush colors. However, it all falls apart in the second act, as the pace becomes rushed, and we’re told rather than shown the many plot points.
The film introduces an array of characters, relationships, and ideas that are never explored to their full potential. Characters are introduced, only to exit abruptly with no explanation or followup. The relationships between the characters lack any real depth or chemistry, and it rushes through Chun’s conflict at such a breakneck speed, that the audience can’t become invested. Big Fish and Begonia is built on the expectation that its animation and basic concept are enough to carry the film. As a result, we’re left with a plot that feels hollow and underwritten.
Confusing and rushed, Big Fish and Begonia’s concept and animation are spellbinding, it just fails to channel them into a coherent story with any real depth or impact. Its themes on the flow of life, and the consequences for disregarding it had the potential to make a gripping story. However, by the time the credits roll, you’re left in awe of its visuals, and confused and unsatisfied in every other respect.