Ne Zha (Chinese: 哪吒之魔童降世, Pinyin: Nézhā zhī Mótóng Jiàngshì) is a 2019 Chinese feature-length animated fantasy film. Featuring the popular Chinese mythological character Nezha, the plot is loosely based on the classic novel Investiture of the Gods, attributed to Xu Zhonglin.
When a powerful creature of chaos was split into two parts, the Spirit Pearl and the Demon Pill, the Spirit Pearl was set to be merged with the third son of the hero Li Jing, while the Demon Pill was set to be destroyed by a massive lightning bolt in three years time.
Machinations by the Dragons resulted in the Demon Pill being placed in the belly of Li Jing's wife, resulting in the birth of Nezha, a boy with great power and violent personality. Meanwhile, the Dragons merged the Spirit Pearl with one of their eggs, resulting in the birth of Ao Bing.
The film was released in China exclusively in IMAX and China Film Giant Screen theatres on 13 July 2019, followed by other theatres on 26 July, distributed by Beijing Enlight Pictures. The first Chinese-produced animated feature released in IMAX format, it began a North American release on 29 August 2019 in select IMAX 3D theatres, before a nationwide rollout on 6 September. An English dub was released on 31 January 2020.
A sequel, Jiang Ziya (also known as Legend of Deification), was scheduled for release on 25 January 2020 but was cancelled after the COVID-19 outbreak. The film was released globally on 1 October 2020. A dub was issued alongside the digital release on 9 February 2021.
This animated film provides examples of:
- Adaptational Heroism:
- Unlike the version of him from the original myth, Li Jing remains a loving father to Nezha throughout.
- Unlike the original myth, Ao Bing is also given a more "heroic" role with him opposing his father's ways and befriending Nezha.
- Played with for the Dragon King. In Investiture of the Gods, he is Drunk On Power which led to him forsaking his duties as a rain god and causing many disasters, even invoking Human Sacrifice just to oblige him into not said causing disasters. In here, he didn't cause as much misery as he along with the other dragons are too busy being trapped as wardens of a prison which contains demons and other dragons. When he hears of Ao Bing's death in The Stinger, he swears revenge.
- Adaptational Jerkass: Nezha is depicted as much more of a misfit as the film studies the possible difficulties raising a superhuman child could present.
- Adaptation Origin Connection: In this story, Nezha and Ao Bing were technically Split at Birth, as they both have their powers originating from splitting the Chaos Pearl.
- Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: Unlike the original myth, Nezha and Ao Bing were mortal foes that fight each other without remorse. However, in this adaptation, they start off as friends until they discover their destiny of fighting each other where they only become temporary enemies. In the end, their spirits come at peace where they are friends once again.
- Always Someone Better: Between the two of them, Gongbao is initially presented as more serious and competent than Taiyi, but it's his supposedly oafish counterpart who manages to do better against the Chaos Orb during the prologue.
- Anti-Antichrist: Taiyi and Nezha's parents try to make the boy's doomed and very short existence less sad and rage-filled by raising him with care and, less admirably, telling him that he is in fact the earthly vessel for the Spirit Pearl rather than the Demon Pill. Even after learning the truth, all the effort and love they put into his life causes Nezha to come around in the end.
- Ass Shove: During their climactic battle, Nezha attempts this on Ao Bing. Twice. The first time is done in earnest but fails because of his foe's dragon scale armor. The second time is done because he wants to annoy him.
- Badass Adorable: Nezha.
- Bag of Holding: Taiyi's pants are such, referred to as "Treasure Pants" by Nezha (at least, in the English dub).
- Big Fun: Taiyi Zhenren is an overweight alcoholic Taoist immortal who takes it upon himself to teach Ne Zha how to use his demonic powers for good by trapping him in a painting and using a magic paintbrush to rearrange their environment.
- Bittersweet Ending: Both Ao Bing and Nezha's mortal bodies are destroyed but their souls are saved in the device Taiyi used to contain the Chaos Pearl. Taiyi survives but loses his immortality after getting hit by divine lightning. Gongbao and the Dragon King are still alive and plotting to revolt against the gods with the help of the demons the dragons previously imprisoned.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: The film's backdrop is Yuanshi Tianzun — one of the three supreme deities of Taoism — going about the process of establishing the Celestial Bureaucracy of Chinese mythology by choosing twelve Immortals to become gods, and compiling a document called the Investiture of the Gods. Taiyi Zhenren is given a shot to prove himself worthy of apotheosis, but Shen Gongbao desires it for himself and sabotages Taiyi.
- Character Tic:
- As a child, Nezha stuffing his hands into his pockets is a fairly clear indication that he's nervous in spite of what he might want others to think.
- Shen Gongbao has a rather bad stutter.
- Children Raise You: Taiyi begins the story as a vain, gluttonous lush, but training and raising Nezha (who he originally wanted to slay from the get-go) gradually causes him to drop many of his vices.
- Destructive Savior: Deconstructed. During his training in Taiyi's painting, Nezha routinely flunks his demon-fighting tests as he winds up grievously injuring the people he tries to rescue and destroying the town he tries to save. Nezha tries to wave off his failures by virtue of the fact that all the damage he caused were to illusions, but his first attempt at demon-slaying in the real world results in a lot of collateral damage.
- Dragons Are Demonic: Unlike most portrayals in Chinese myths where dragons are revered as gods, jerkass or otherwise, in here dragons are considered just as bad as demons to the extent that they are considered another kind of demon altogether. Just ask Ao Bing when Li Jing exposes him by removing his hood.
- Dual Wielding: Ao Bing's primary weapons are a pair of maces made from ice with which he can channel his powers through.
- Elemental Powers: Fire for Nezha and Ice for Ao Bing.
- Eldritch Ocean Abyss: The Dragon Palace is a volcanic crater where the dragons have sealed away all sorts of Eldritch Abominations and primordial monsters on behalf of the gods... but are themselves prisoners, since if they leave the monsters will escape.
- Empathic Weapon: Taiyi's flying pig mount is actually an amorphous vehicle that changes forms depending on who's using it.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: As mischievous and destructive as Nezha can be, he deeply adores his parents.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: The magma of the Dragon Palace contains all the barely imprisoned and still very much alive demons the Dragon Kings managed to defeat over the eons. It is revealed that in The Stinger, some of the prisoners are dragons as well, which explains even more as to why the Dragon King wants his kind to be free of their burden by ascending Ao Bing as a deity.
- Grievous Harm with a Body: Nezha beating up a Sea Yaksha with the (mostly) petrified Ao Bing.
- Go-Karting with Bowser: Before they formally become rivals/enemies, Nezha (avatar of the Demon Pill) and Ao Bing (incarnation of the Spirit Pearl) bond over a game of jianzi.
- Let Them Die Happy: The core conflict of Nezha's parents as the divine curse that will strike down Nezha is inevitable. They struggle to determine whether it is better to be honest with him or to fabricate well-meaning lies to make his short existence a happy one.
- Lonely Rich Kid: Both Nezha and Ao Bing. Nezha has loving parents but spends most of his time cooped up in the family estate (and eventually, Taiyi's painting). Ao Bing is allowed to travel the world, but it's all in service of training his powers, he's forbidden from interacting with other people too much to hide how he's a dragon in disguise, and his father is very distant and cold to him.
- Longest Pregnancy Ever: By the time she finally gives birth to Nezha, Lady Yin's been pregnant with him for three years (which, luckily for her, is half-a-year less than how long it was in the original myth).
- Made of Evil: Nezha. His real personality is more mischievous than sincerely evil, though.
- Omnicidal Maniac: The Chaos Orb's first act as a sentient being? Attempting to devour the sun.
- Only Friend: Nezha and Ao Bing view each other as this after their first meeting. It's even lampshaded days before they temporarily become enemies.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Nezha is the hot headed red while Ao Bing is the more calm blue.
- Restraining Bolt: Subverted. The collar Taiyi manages to get around Nezha's neck can barely hold back his power, and he's still strong enough to shatter the face of a mountain with a kick. Just before the climax, Shen tells him the magic words to remove it, which Nezha initially revels in, but ultimately alters so that his Superpowered Evil Side is kept in check while allowing him access to his full suite of powers.
- Screw Destiny: Zigzagged with Nezha's ultimate fate. After Li Jing learned that Nezha's curse was indeed unbreakable, he decided to circumvent it with a fate-swapping talisman so his son could live on. Nezha, after learning both his real identity and of his father's sacrifice, opts to accept his own death until Ao Bing joins him to reunite the Chaos Orb's powers and absorb the force of the lightning that would have killed the both of them.
- Ne Zha: If fate comes at you swinging, then you hit back!
- Shout-Out: To Terminator 2: Judgment Day , when the musicians of Chentang Pass, having just witnessed the Demon Orb incarnate into the body of Li Jing's and Lady Jin's child, begin playing something remarkably similar to the musical theme to that movie. (A glare from Taiyi and Li Jing makes them cut it short.) There's even a small burned-out crater beneath Nezha like the one that forms when a Terminator-franchise time traveler arrives.
- The Stinger: Three of them. One involving a brick joke, the second with one of the dragons swearing revenge on the world above, and the third introduces Jiang Ziya, the protagonist of the sequel.
- The Stoic:
- The initially emotional Li Jing adopts this as his primary persona after Nezha is born to act as a warm and assuring figure of strength and wisdom for his son, even as Nezha's impending death weighs heavily on his soul. He breaks character when Nezha tears up the secret fate-swapping talisman that would have caused the curse to hit him instead.
- Ao Bing is both stoic and gentle, but learning that he was born as a pawn for Shen Gongbao and the dragons sends him into rage and hurt.
- Toilet Humor: Quite a bit on Taiyi's part.
- Vocal Dissonance: A male villager has a ridiculously high-pitched voice.
- Warrior Poet: When bored or feeling particularly lonely, Nezha whittles the hours away by composing rather depressing poetry.
- Would Hit a Girl: Nezha punches a woman so hard she flies and lands in the water. Granted she does strike him with a paddle.
- Yin-Yang Bomb: Nezha and Ao Bing can temporarily replicate the Chaos Orb's powers if they work together.
- Younger Than They Look: Nezha spends much of the film moving, speaking and thinking at a much higher level than the average one-to-three year old. Ao Bing, who is a day younger than Nezha at least, looks and acts even older. In contrast, Yaya, who met Nezha when he was a few months old, consistently acts like a regular toddler.