China is trying to boost its animated film industry — and the results are making headlines this summer for being both shamelessly bad and surprisingly good.
18 animated features produced in China are expected to hit the country’s theaters this summer, a record high and more than double last year’s number. Seeking to maximize audiences, China’s state film regulator is requiring more than 2,000 theaters in the country to slot two hours for screening domestically-produced animated films each morning. The plan, which went into effect Saturday, also requires that theaters offer discounted tickets for the films during those times.
One of the films on offer, “The Autobots,” has caught public attention after critics alleged that it plagiarized the 2006 Pixar film, “Cars.” Online postings comparing the Autobots poster to the nearly-identical Cars poster went viral on China’s social networks in the weeks leading up to its July 3 release, with netizens heaping scorn on director Zhuo Jianrong.
Wu Hanqing, CEO of Vasoon Animation, had a similarly harsh assessment. “There is always a group of ‘businessmen’ who take advantage of audiences in less-developed areas, as they are not that information-savvy, and make knock-offs of Hollywood animated films,” she said. “Oftentimes, these projects can make money.”
On the other end of the spectrum is “Money King: Hero is Back”, a 3-D animated film based on the story of “Journey To The West.” The film raked in more than 134 million yuan in the four days after it was released last Friday, according to Beijing-based film research firm EntGroup — an impressive figure, as many domestic animated films tend to gross only millions of yuan at best.
The film also won a rare wave of positive reviews from industry professionals and audiences. “Its animation effects are catching up with the visual effects of Hollywood (projects),” film and TV director Jin Gang wrote on his verified Weibo account. “It is a nice animation gift given to China’s kids and adults, which is so rare in the past three decades.”
Likely helping to draw audiences to the film is its retelling of a classic storythat has weathered countless adaptations on China’s TV and silver screens. In addition, Chinese moviegoers don’t have many choices at the moment as most buzzy Hollywood films are blocked out by the state film regulator to protect local films, and other domestic films currently showing have received negative reviews.
Still, China’s domestic animation industry faces a variety of challenges. Ms. Wu of Vasoon Animation pointed to a lack of understanding of the broad variety of animation offerings as one obstacle faced by the genre. Vasoon produced “Kuiba,” a Chinese fantasy animation franchise, the three installments of which all suffered from lukewarm box office receipts.
“Many local theaters are very reluctant to screen domestic animated films at night, because domestic animated films appear to be ‘kids only’ and not for adult audiences,” Ms. Wu said.
She added that the unexpected success of “Monkey King” gives her more confidence. “Its popularity tells the market that China can also make good animated films that attract adult audiences,” she said.