WESTERN HITS WITH LOCAL FLAVOR
With The Secret Life of Pets, He Jiong and Chen Peisi join a growing list of Chinese celebrities on the voice-over bandwagon. Xu Fan reports.
Following The Little Prince and Kung Fu Panda 3, The Secret
Life ofPets is the latest foreign animation feature to use Chinese star power to gain attention in the world’s secondmovie market.
Illumination Entertainment, known for the Despicable Me franchise, has used He Jiong, a TV anchor, and Chen Peisi, a veteran actor, to do voice-overs for two characters in theMandarin version of The Secret Life of Pets.
The 90-minute movie, which dominated North America’s box-office charts in its debut weekend in July, opened in Chinese mainland theaters on Tuesday.
For viewers, who have pets, the film tries to answer a key question: Whatdopetsdowhen their owners aren’thome?
Set in New York, the familyfriendly film is about a terrier namedMax, who finds his life turned upsidedowndue to the arrival of a sloppy mongrel called Duke.
Buttherivalsformanalliance as they are hunted by an evil rabbit called Snowball and its undergroundarmy of lost pets.
Admitting that Chinese star power played a role in the decision to pick him to do the dubbing, He, 42, who is followed by nearly 80 million people on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, says: “I know I might not be the best option as Max (the terrier). But the producers need celebrities or familiar faces to publicize the movie.”
But he finds joy in his work. And, as a pet lover in real life, he feels an emotional connection with the character.
“Max is not always passionate, nice and positive. I can sense his transition — from being childish and a bit devious to being brave and responsible,” He said before the film’s preview in Beijing on July 29.
The TV anchor, a veteran who has done voice-overs for Hollywood hits Ratatouille (2007) andMonstersUniversity (2013), says China has in recent years relaxed its rules with regard to voice-overs.
Earlier, every word had to be translated into Chinese, but nowyoucankeep a fewEnglish words if they can be easily understood by the audience.
“For example, you can use ‘bye bye’ instead of zai jian, or Mike instead of Mai Ke,” says He.
Chen, who is the voice of the rabbit Snowball, agrees.
The Mandarin versions are keeping up with the times, says Chen, who spoke to reporters on July 31, adding that Chinese stars now have more freedom when doing the Mandarin versions.
Recalling his experience with Disney’s Mulan (1998), he says that when he was doing the voice-over for the small dragon Mushu, he was told to closely follow the translation. He says he had to struggle to convince the American filmmakers to let him make a fewrevisions.
“I wanted to add some sounds like ‘dong’. But they refused. They said: ‘If Eddie Murphy didn’t do it in the English version, why should you add it’,” Chen told Mtime.com, a leading Chinese movie website.
But in The Secret Life of Pets, the actor had more freedom.
Though the American producers initially wanted him to be the voice of Duke, he insisted on Snowball, a more challenging and complex character.
China’s burgeoning film market has seen a growing number of celebrities being used as “voices” in animation films.
Also, in the past three years, five, orone-fourthofthe19overseas animation hits that have crossed the box-office threshold of 100 million yuan ($15 million), have usedChinese stars to do voice-overs in the films.
The Sino-French animation film, The Little Prince, had up to 11Chinese stars doing voiceovers and the Sino-US production Kung Fu Panda 3 had 10 Chinese stars in its Mandarin version.
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The new animation movie TheSecretLifeofPets opens in Chinese mainland theaters on Tuesday.
TV anchor He Jiong, who gave the voice-over for a terrier, Max, in the Mandarin version of TheSecretLifeofPets, at a promotional event for the film in Beijing.