White Snake (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2019]

I don’t know what Warner are planning for a domestic release, but “White Snake” (Warner Bros. first animated feature made completely in China) is far too complex and adult for a family friendly audience or broader crowd, and way too briskly paced for movie fans that appreciate the more subtle tone of Pixar and Studio Ghibli. As someone genuinely looking forward to “White Snake” I loved the animation and genuine sentiment behind it, I just wish I wasn’t so bored by it half the time.

Found in human form by the handsome, hapless snake hunter Xu Xuan, beautiful snake demoness Blanca awakens in human form in a humble village of snake-catchers. Without her memory, the two forms a bond and begin to fall in love, and as she attempts to reclaim her memory of her failed assassination attempt on a powerful general. Suddenly other beings come looking for her, including the general’s second hand man, other demons and Blanca’s fellow snake demon sister Verta. Along with their wits, Blanca’s magic, and their trust dog Dodou, the two hope to escape the clutches of the conniving army of the general, and a snake spirit clan, while hoping to stay together forever.

For a one off film, “White Snake” is packed to the brim with information, and often almost too much information. There’s a ton of exposition, and dialogue exchange for a movie that’s only ninety nine minutes in length. Among many of the narrative elements there’s reincarnation, romance, war, amnesia, and political intrigue. There are talking dogs, giant snakes, snake demons, and snake tricksters, and amazing magic, and evil wizards eating snakes, death pacts, and the battle for immortality among various tribes in ancient China. It all becomes so overwhelming and hopelessly convoluted that I eventually stopped trying to play catch up to what was going on and kind of soaked in the experience.

I fancy myself a sucker for big fantasy films and big fantasy epics, but “White Snake” includes so much fantastic fantasy tropes, but barely musters up enough compelling material or dramatic tension to keep audiences invested the entire time. There’s so much going on at all times, but I just didn’t really find myself caring about many of the characters on-screen, even in spite of the slick character designs and interesting monsters. I particularly loved the two headed demon with the face of a girl and a fox. Amp Wong, and Ji Zhao’s “White Snake” has all the ingredients of a sweeping fantasy epic, including incredible animation, but it fails as an engaging narrative.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st 2019