It’s Time for Tea Pets, A Nearly Forgotten Joy

11 Feb

Image gallery for Tea Pets - FilmAffinity

Light Chaser Animation Studios

Spoiler Alert

Tea Pets was a movie I had to watch during the last days of Chinese New Year and it’s one that’s not as well known. The animation house earned its cred with White Snake and its sequel, and it’s odd they would sell the rights of this early effort to a less than ideal international distributor.

These little clay figures trace back to 13th Century China and are used during tea ceremonies. These figurines bring good luck to those who affectionately play with them during tea time. All it takes is to pour some tasty liquid over them and they’ll come to life. The unkilned porous clay transforms the colours into another pigmentation, and it’s amazing to watch.

According to one online source, writer/director Gary Wang saw some for sale at in an antique store in Paris! It reminded him of home. Although I’ve never seen them at Murchie’s Tea & Coffee in Victoria, BC, or any Asian tea houses here in town, I had to wonder. I’d love to have a feline tea pet to keep me smiling on those grey days.

Whether this filmmaker bought any, it’s not known. He took this discovery as a sign, and wrote a story about two unlikely individuals, a chef who knows kung fu and a robot, searching for a place to belong. For Ah Tang (Lei Shi, or Nathan in the dub), he’s a one of a kind creation who lost his special “other.” Nobody else knows where she went, and thus, additional simulacrums of him can’t be replicated and sold. His friends–a frog, elephant, buddha, twins and a deer (to name a few)–have been duplicated and exist nearly “everywhere.” Thankfully, they aren’t psychically linked.

The group this movie introduces help with the accounting of the tea shop. When this ‘bot drops in on their lives, it’s confused about what purpose it serves, but for Ah, he decides to help since he understands the machine’s lost sense of identity. Their pairing is no different than Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, and the similarities don’t end there.

Toys & Pets (2017) - IMDb

This movie’s been renamed Toys and Pets for International audiences and the translation isn’t the best. Instead of calling the sculptor sifu or master, he’s a toymaker. The home they live in is called a toy shop when the visuals clearly show the operation sells teas. These figures sit on top of a wet table, and when they are demonstrated, it’s cool to see how the CGI shines. The tale suggests these decorations acquire the tea’s scents and, in return, provide a nice smelling space to meditate by. 

Ah Tang and Time Bot, however, aren’t at peace. They leave the safety of home so one can help the other find home. Along the way, they meet a tyrannical rat named Flash. The two have to fight for freedom. A theme introduced is suggestive of Wang’s opinion on how he dislikes how Mainland China governs its citizens. These two free the other beings this rodent captured, and find another figurine to which Tang realises is his significant other. She was “kidnapped,” and instead of explaining everything that needs to be covered, the film rushes to a finale.

Tea Pets is rather heavy for a kid’s movie. The cultural nuances get erased in the translated/dubbed version, and a lot of detail is perhaps dropped. A proper release (on Blu-ray or DVD) is needed, or if it can be found at a video rental shop in Chinatown, watching this film as it was originally written can be appreciated proper!

3 Stars out of 5 (Dubbed version)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: