Bigfish & Begonia is an animated sci-fi fantasy which was a long time in the making for its filmmakers. It's a rare Chinese animated feature. It aims to sit alongside the likes of Japanese anime from the brilliant Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and Mamoru Hososa (Wolf Children). Executive produced by Chang-tian Wang (Dearest), Xiaoping Li (Back in Time), and Chun Zhang, Bigfish & Begonia is a unique example of crowdfunding and studios teaming up to make a movie become a reality.
The story for Bigfish & Begonia is fantasy-based and it is largely inspired by Chinese folklore. It centers on a girl named Chun who enters into another magic realm in the form of a dolphin: she can change back and forth between the sea form and her human appearance. She encounters many strange creatures from both sea and land. She befriends a young boy along the way. She is tossed into a journey of surprising, mystical, and curious adventures.
The most impressive thing about this film is it's breathtaking imagery and visuals. The film earned acclaim for it's animation and with good reason. The art is astonishing. There is a great level of detail to each visual image. From the wide-open canvas of the skies and to the pearly-blue depths of the ocean waters, the filmmakers achieved something that looks unique. This film was clearly heavily inspired by Japanese anime filmmaker's while utilizing CG animation and flash-style cinematography in a unique way. At least from an animation standpoint, Bigfish & Begonia is a film which delivers strong artistic merit.
The music score composed by Kiyoshi Yoshida (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) is also notable with a rhythm and style that befits the imagery. The score alternates between peaceful melodies and more invigorating action-pieces during some key scenes and it does so with clear success. Its both intense and beautiful at the same time.
The film was written and directed by collaborators Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. Both of these filmmakers make their feature film directorial debut with this production. The film has a clear directorial style that succeeds in bringing out terrific animation. They succeed on that level. Production-wise, they excel as visual storytellers.
Unfortunately, the storyline itself is rather jumbled and unquestionably convoluted. For those who are used to watching anime it's like a convoluted anime series (the ones that are pretty to look at but don't actually make much sense dramatically if you stop to ponder the storytelling itself). Bigfish & Begonia makes little to no sense whatsoever. It feels unfocused. It's mostly style and not substance. This is a huge detractor from the experience.
Despite a disappointing storyline to the film itself, the behind the scenes journey this film underwent impresses. This is the directing team's first film after over a decade spent struggling to try and get the film financed and made. The journey began with starting a studio that was aimed at making animated films. Things were sidetracked due to financing issues and the studio turned to making promotional videos (such as commercials and educational material) instead.
Rather than pursing their passion for film, directors Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun weren't able to make this film for many years. After many delays, Bigfish & Begonia started to make waves to being produced when they made short film advertising the concept and turned to Kickstarter and independent studios to co-finance it. A door opened.
With the help of passionate fans in China who were moved by the short film and the filmmaker's mission statement for the project, the directors met their goal and got the movie made as originally envisioned. In that regard, Bigfish & Begonia is a testament to the quest for artistic expression and the pursuit of dreams. It's an imperfect film from a storytelling perspective but its visually stunning to behold and worth checking out.
Bigfish & Begonia is presented on Blu-ray with a 1080p high definition MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. This is a strong HD encode which showcases the mesmerizing visual aesthetics. The use of color impresses on this presentation. The film has some minor issues with banding throughout so there are some minor distractions to the presentation but the clean, crisp animation is still impressive.
The audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with both an English dubbed version and the original Mandarin audio with English subtitles. The lossless surround sound presentation has some interesting use of the surround channels. This is an effective and engrossing surround sound mix. Dialogue is also clear and easy to understand. The music score by Yoshida sounds terrific too.
The release includes a bonus digital download of the film (not a streaming version but a digital edition that can be obtained through distributor Shout Factory).
On disc supplements include:
Making-Of Documentary (HD, 24 min.) focuses on the film's lengthy production and the filmmaker's journey to getting the movie made. Includes interviews with the directors, producers, animators, and others who worked on the film. It also highlights the film's journey with fans helping to get the film produced.
Short film which inspired Bigfish & Begonia (HD, 8 min.) is an early flash animation short which inspired the making of the feature length movie.
Music Videos: Big Fish (HD, 3 min.) and Wind Whispering (HD, 4 min.)
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 min.)
Bigfish & Begonia has beautiful animation and is worth a look for its visuals. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather convoluted and underwhelming. However, the film is still worth a watch once for the impressive animation. The release also includes some excellent supplemental material which delves into the film's production history.