Whether or not Chang actually can dunk I will not reveal, but this movie is about what hard work can achieve in the abstract. It’s not about whether or not a miracle will occur, it’s about a boy working the hardest he possibly can to reach his goal. At least ten minutes of the runtime is just dedicated to Chang doing workouts.
Chang is one of the easiest-to-root-for protagonists I’ve seen in a while. Despite the classic “main character gets so overhyped on his success that he forgets to prioritize the people he cares about” trope that I tend to despise, Chang spends the majority of the movie effortlessly making you fall in love with him. He’s passionate, driven, and a little bit dorky about it. He’s articulate about his needs and his feelings, and he’s respectful of others (except for a notable few, but to be fair they are actively bullying him). He also does a fantastic job throughout the film of taking accountability and apologizing when he needs to, and then he follows those apologies up with actions that prove his sincerity.
Another reason why I love this movie, and Chang, so much is the way the romance is handled. Chang and his love interest Kristy are sweet, compatible, and incredibly healthy in their interactions. Kristy makes her wants and expectations very clear and she knows exactly how she deserves to be treated. She and Chang value each other for genuine reasons beyond just “girl is cute” or “boy does sport.” There’s one moment at the start of the film that blew me away. There is a set up for a love triangle, which are always exhausting in movies for tweens, and it results in Chang and Matt (the main antagonist of the film) getting into a public altercation. The next day, Kristy expresses how she found the whole display disrespectful for her (way to stand up for yourself!) and Chang’s response is essentially “I’m sorry. I understand how that put you in an uncomfortable situation. That was super uncool of me and it won’t happen again. I hope I can make it up to you.” Look at how healthy that interaction was! So little drama! Such a great example for young people to see on their screens!
Look, Chang Can Dunk is a kids movie. It is absolutely not perfect. It has plenty of corny moments and cringy dialogue. But it’s a kids movie with fantastic messaging and role-model characters, and that’s never something I’ll complain about. Chang is a beautiful example of positive masculinity, and I think that is one of the best things a piece of children’s media can do with a main character. In a time where it feels like so much content for kids is just a shitty cash grab, Chang Can Dunk rises above the pack as a movie that really says something worthwhile. It’s super accessible to the current generation, it’s got a lot of fun choices when it comes to directing and editing, and the characters are memorable and incredibly compelling. The representation is natural but not without intention or acknowledgement, the use of social media is imperfect but done well enough to feel believable, and it’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Lady Bird for 13-year-old boys. What’s not to love?
Do I think it’s fantastic? No. But it’s fun and it’s easy to get into and it will be nothing but a positive influence on children who watch it. I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad I took the time to watch it.
Chang Can Dunk is streaming on Disney+. This review was written by Davis Mathis.