Welcome to Tao: 'Warriors of Virtue' Review
It’s always irked me that the decaying, grumpy old men, and women of the film critic’s industry have often dubbed decent children’s films as “ridiculous,” or “unrealistic.” It’s ironic that these Daniel Day-Lewis fanboys pride themselves on being thorough analysts of cinema yet fail to see, time and time again, the purpose of films that go out of their way to drive simple, jubilantly delivered messages home under the guise of over-the-top action and acting. Perhaps, however, that the problem lies not with the critics but with the unwritten rules of criticism: film critiques are meant only for snobbish adults and wannabe film experts looking for grammatically bloated sentences with an obtuse message to memorize and recite at wine mixers. The value of children’s films is that often, what they do for kids, they do well. They grab a simple message, wrap it with bright colors and fantastic, albeit rudimentary, characters and stop at nothing to make sure that whatever 4 to 12-year-old is watching the film walks away with that same message, engraved on the inside of their skull.
So, when reviewing kids films, it’s important to know the movie’s audience, their “who,” and to take care while analyzing it, to keep that audience in mind. Because if you think a kid's film is terrible because the main character is whiny, or the plot is contrived, understand that children don’t care for details like that, they want instant gratification. If the film manages to provide that and send a message, then it’s a job well done.
Warriors of Virtue, a children’s film like so many others that fall into the same description outlined above, is the story of a young boy and his journey to the magical land of Tao. Arriving there after taking part in a dangerous ceremony-disguised-as-bullying organized by his school’s football team, Ryan (Mario Yeddidia) finds Tao to be beautiful under threat of being ruled by the nefarious Lord Komodo (Angus Mcfadyen). With the help of Master Chung (Chao-Li-Chi), Ryan must become Tao’s hero and learn self-esteem in ways he never could on Earth.
So why did I go on that semi-rant about knowing the intended audience when reviewing a film? Precisely because Warriors of Virtue is the perfect example of a film that is objectively terrible but will resonate deeply with its target audience. Why is a 3-hour continuous shot of a garbage bin behind a diner billed as a “brilliant demonstration of arthouse creativity” but a children’s film focusing on style over cinematic substance slapped with an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes?
That’s not to say the 18% is unwarranted like I said there are a lot of things that are terrible about the film. The acting is stale, the lines are chewed like cardboard, the film’s villain is as over-the-top silly as can be, and the script is just a collection of inane clichés strung together with contrived plot points.
Why that’s alright, for kids that is, is because the world of Tao is genuinely magical. The sets are gorgeous and filled with bright, vibrant colors – the influence of Hong Kong director Ronny Yu shows. Though Lord Komodo may have silly lines and a stupid name, the use of lighting and atmospheric tension makes him more imposing than he has any right to be; to kids he’d be downright terrifying. Ultimately it’s the visuals that drive Warriors of Virtue to be a film that defies the conventions of conventional cinema. Though it’s not unique because of this. There are dozens of The NeverEnding Story clones that lack all the heart-wrenching emotion and intelligent writing but still retain an aura of fantasia. A permeable, jubilant, and arcane cinematic climate. That’s what tends to stick with children, the evident and upfront emotions pushed by the film onto its target demographic.
So, is Warriors of Virtue a terrible film? Sort of. If you’re an adult on a bored Saturday night with nothing else to watch, you could probably do better. If you’re tired of watching Paw Patrol with your kids for the millionth time, then it’s probably not a bad idea to show them Warriors of Virtue instead.
In cases like this, though, the answer is always to show them Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show, not the film you heathen.