Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a stretch to say this is the rare, animated kids’ action movie grounded in reality, yet we can say it is based on John Wilson’s 2018 YA novel, which in turn was inspired by the Bronze Masks of Sanxingdui unearthed by archaeologists in Sichuan, China back in 1986. The film is directed by Sean Patrick O’Reilly, known for his work on the “Howard Lovecraft” franchise, and twelve contributing writers are noted, including creator Xiaoming Yao.
This one is for the younger kids, probably ages 5 to 10, who enjoy action-adventure stories where the screen is flooded with colors. Older kids would likely be disappointed in the animation and overall look of the film. Most parents will approve since there is a message delivered by the end. A quintet of Chinese superheroes who get their special powers from the ancient masks they don, are defending their kingdom of Sanxingdui from Kunyi, an evil would-be conqueror. In the battle, the group’s leader is killed, and his daughter Li takes a mystic portal to modern day Chicago (?), so the mask can choose it’s new hero.
Charlie is a wise-cracking street urchin who survives on this wits and instincts (stealing). Local gangster Rizzo is pursuing Charlie when, for some reason, the mask picks Charlie and he and Li transport back to her homeland. She begins to train and mentor Charlie, even though she has little faith that this rebel can be transformed into a hero. Charlie even doubts it himself, and has his own plan to undermine the team and reap the reward.
Soon enough, Kunyi and his band are attacking the city on their quest to steal the mystical Jade Blade and obtain the enhanced powers it brings. Of course, the quintet in masks, now including Charlie, engage in battle. The message here is obvious: being a team player, rather than a selfish loner, allows for a more fulfilling life … and it’s important that we each find our own place.
This will be marketed as Christopher Plummer’s final film (he passed in 1991), and the voice acting he provides as gangster Rizzo, is not the silky-smooth Plummer voice we expect. Ron Perlman does admirable work as the villain Kunyi, while Natasha Liu Bordizzo is Li, and Patton Oswalt is recognizable as the voice of Aesop. The director’s son, Keifer O’Reilly, is age appropriate as the voice of Charlie, but it’s the action and color palette that will most appeal to kids, rather than the characters. While not especially memorable, the film will likely entertain a particular age group on a rainy day.
On digital platforms beginning June 9, 2023