An­i­mat­ing a bright spot in the movie mar­ket

China Daily (Canada) - - NEWS CAPSULE -

For most Chi­nese film­mak­ers, 2016 was a dis­ap­point­ing year.

The coun­try’s once rapidly ex­pand­ing movie mar­ket en­coun­tered an un­prece­dented slow­down. But an­i­mated fea­tures — the genre that was for a long time seen as chil­dren’s fare— pro­vided a glim­mer of hope in the chilly win­ter.

Lat­est fig­ures show China’s 2016 box-of­fice to­tal was up just 3.73 per­cent from 2015, lower than the av­er­age year-on-year growth rate of over 30 per­cent be­tween 2010 and 2015. Be­sides, seven months in 2016 saw neg­a­tive growth com­pared with the same pe­riod a year ear­lier.

Buck­ing the trend, an­i­mated fea­tures grossed 6.54 bil­lion yuan ($941 mil­lion) in 2016, up45 per­cent from 4.5 bil­lion yuan in 2015.

Dis­ney’s Zootopia topped the an­i­mated films’ box-of­fice charts rak­ing in 1.53 bil­lion yuan, fol­lowed by DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 3 at 1 bil­lion yuan and Ja­panese hit Your Name at 569 mil­lion yuan.

An un­ex­pected suc­cess in China, Zootopia thrilled lo­cal movie­go­ers with its skill­ful de­pic­tion of bias and dis­tor­tion through an un­likely fairy tale. While chil­dren were happy with the cute an­i­mals and their an­thro­po­mor­phic world, adult view­ers got philo­soph­i­cal in­sights from the movie.

Chi­nese film-re­view fo­rum Douban.com gave Zootopia 9.2 points out of 10.

With two other an­i­mated Dis­ney films in the top 10 list — Find­ing Dory at eight andMoana at 10— the en­ter­tain­ment gi­ant was the big­gest win­ner in the world’s sec­ond-largest movie mar­ket.

Its pow­er­ful ri­val from Hol­ly­wood’s “Big Six” had one block­buster in the 10 high­est-gross­ing an­i­mated ti­tles’ charts.

Sony Pic­tures had The An­gry Bird­sMovie, a cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion of the name­sake game se­ries, in fifth place with 513 mil­lion yuan, while Ice Age: Col­li­sion Course took the sixth spot with 447 mil­lion yuan.

The last in­stall­ment of the 14-year saga of pre­his­toric an­i­mals, Ice Age 5 res­onated with Chi­nese fans thanks to the fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters. It was fol­lowed in sev­enth place by Univer­sal Pic­tures’ The Se­cret Life of Pets at 390 mil­lion yuan.

In­ter­est­ingly, both the over­seas an­i­mal-themed films strate­gi­cally used Chi­nese star power to ex­pand their in­flu­ence in China.

Ice Age 5 had three­Mahua Fu­nage co­me­di­ans, Shen Teng, Ma Li and Chang Yuan, to dub its ma­jor roles, whileThe Se­cretLife ofPets sur­prised lo­cals with the fa­mil­iar voices of renowned host He Jiong and house­hold-name co­me­dian Chen Peisi.

Mean­while, though China has a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple speak­ing English, theMan­darin ver­sions of for­eign films still draw­fam­i­lies with young chil­dren.

And, here, Kung Fu Panda 3 stole the show. With one-third of its con­tent crafted in China, the Sino-US co­pro­duc­tion had a very goodMan­darin ver­sion. The char­ac­ters’ mouths were re­an­i­mated so they didn’t seem off when speak­ing Chi­nese. The ver­sion cost a lot money and took a lot of time.

Sep­a­rately, the past year also saw a break­out of Ja­panese im­ports.

Among the 11 Ja­panese re­leased across China, nine an­i­mated pro­duc­tions.

Your Name, tak­ing the third spot, was di­rected by Ja­pan’s fast-rising an­i­ma­torMakoto Shinkai.

While the rise of an­i­mated ti­tles is a bright spot in the lack­lus­terChi­nese film mar­ket, it’s a bit­ter­sweet pill for home­grown an­i­ma­tors.

While the films’ box-of­fice per­for­mance shows that the coun­try is in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in car­toons, it also in­di­cates a big chal­lenge from pow­er­ful for­eign play­ers.

Only two do­mes­tic films, Big Fish & Be­go­nia and Boonie Bears III, were in the top 10 list, in the fourth ti­tles were and ninth spots, re­spec­tively.

Big Fish & Be­go­nia, rooted in Chi­nese mythol­ogy and in­spired by an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture, was at one time ex­pected to re­peat the suc­cess of the 2015 smash hit The Mon­key King: Hero Is Back.

TheMon­keyKing then­wasa land­mark in Chi­nese an­i­mated films. How­ever, Big Fish & Be­go­nia’s un­con­vinc­ing char­ac­ters and loose sto­ry­line got it only 6.5 on Douban. com­pared with 8.2 for The Mon­key King.

As of now, most in­dus­try watch­ers be­lieve Chi­nese an­i­ma­tors have a long way to go.

“The past year has seen Chi­nese tal­ent un­der a lot of pres­sure. Zootopia’s box-of­fice earn­ings equalled 40 do­mes­tic an­i­mated films. It is a bit frus­trat­ing,” says Zhu Yuqing, an an­i­mated-film in­dus­try watcher and founder of the Bei­jing-based film com­pany On­line FilmMar­ket.

Cao Xiao­hui, vice-pres­i­dent of the an­i­ma­tion in­sti­tute at the Bei­jing Film Academy, says Chi­nese an­i­ma­tors should pol­ish their sto­ry­telling skills and seek in­spi­ra­tion from their own back­grounds.

“The closer to real life the story is, the eas­ier it is to res­onate with lo­cal au­di­ences. Chi­nese tal­ent should shake off their ten­dency to im­i­tate Amer­i­can and Ja­panese an­i­ma­tors,” says Cao.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

From left: Dis­ney’s Zootopia, DreamWorks’ KungFuPanda3, Ja­panese hit YourName and do­mes­tic an­i­mated film BigFish&Be­go­nia are among the top 10 of China’s 2016 box-of­fice charts of an­i­mated films.

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