Fantasy has been classically dominated here in the West by a medieval vein that places most fantasy words in a constant medieval world, with knights in armor, dragons, kings, queens, etc. However, lately, thanks to the globalization process, audiences are able to experience fantasy stories from other countries. In these experiences, the setting, characters, and situations can be quite different. They are still stories written by humans, so they reflect the perspective of our race, but they still manage to be different enough to be told from their own unique points of view. Heroes of the Golden Mask is a new animated film that tries to mix both perspectives into one.
The film is directed by Sean Patrick O’Reilly, and stars Kiefer O’Reilly, Ron Perlman, Christopher Plummer, Patton Oswald, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Byron Mann, Osric Chau, and Zeus Mendoza. The film tells the story of Charlie, a young orphan kid who is suddenly thrown into a secret world where a war is being fought over, possessing an ancient weapon called the Jade Blade.
Charlie will meet the ancient warrior whose duty it is to protect the blade, and in the process, he will learn more about himself and the world surrounding it. And, of course, he will do all of this while also trying to save the world.
From the moment, Heroes of the Golden Mask reveals its first frame to you, and there is something clear about it. This is a movie with a low-budget production. There is nothing bad about it, though. Artists need to do what they can with what they have, but it is clear that the resources are just not there.
Heroes of the Golden Mask tries to tell a very epic story that could have been an amazing visual feast if it had the right amount of money, but instead, the movie has only received the kind of treatment that some CGI TV shows receive or is somehow even worse. This is not the artists’ fault; sometimes, you have to work with the minimum to make great work.
Visually, the movie is filled with low-texture work, making each shot feel like something coming out of a PS2 Game. It is that bad. The animations are often quite solid, but they still have a floaty quality to them that feels very annoying. In the age of movies like Across the Spider-Verse, this really comes as a subpar production in terms of visuals.
It is clear that this movie aims for a very young demographic, one that will not care about how good the visuals are. An older target audience will definitely not pass this by as something worth watching.
The story fairs a lot better. It cannot pass something that will give you a rollercoaster of feelings. The story is very much an isekai story, with our main hero managing to travel to a new world where he meets new companions and his life-changing because of it. It is a classic story of adventure, and there is not much to tell outside the classical Chinese inspirations that plague the world.
These elements make the world interesting and will surely become some of the main attractions for kids who have never seen Chinese culture depicted like this. It is all very cool.
However, the script itself suffers from a great deal of exposition that constantly interrupts the flow of the story. The movie runs for about 80 minutes, so taking that into account, maybe that exposition was needed for it actually to reach the length of a feature. Otherwise, this could have been taken as a short film. The dialogue is plagued with exposition and lines that seem very much taken from a template. The movie still works, and themes of identity and self-worth are all present, but they definitely don’t pay off as big as they could.
The voice acting also suffers. Not only because some lines are certainly uninspired but also because some of the voices don’t match the character design. For example, the movie managed to get the great Ron Perlman to voice the villain of the piece, a character named, Kunyi. Perlman has a very iconic and powerful voice, but it is very much the voice of someone older, which makes it weird that the character looks quite young, lean, and certainly not someone who would speak with that tone. It just doesn’t match. The rest of the voice work is fine, but it doesn’t have the energy that the movie needs to stand out in this regard.
The character design is also quite strange when talking about a certain number of human characters whose heads are just too big for any apparent reason, while for others, the proportions are just normal. It is very strange and makes the entire film look very inconsistent.
In the end, Heroes of the Golden Mask ends up being a very harmless adventure movie that very small kids will surely enjoy to some degree. Some of them might even love it. However, It is clear that the movie cannot compete with some of the big productions that we are seeing today in cinemas.
Animated movies are starting to see a way beyond the Disney and Pixar formulas, and they have been able to be great stories and amazing visual endeavors. Heroes of the Golden Mask just doesn’t have the resources to do it, and it fails to reach a standard production level for today’s audiences. Maybe next time, these creators can achieve their ambitions fully.