A rabbit to the rescue?
Updated: 2011-07-20 10:19
By Eric Jou (China Daily)
Legend of a Rabbit has been the most expensive Chinese animated film to date. Photos Provided to China Daily
As the summer heat intensifies, domestically made animation films are gearing up for the holiday season box-office showdown with animated features from the West. The first Chinese-made 3D animated feature, Legend of a Rabbit, is leading the charge. Its team of more than 500 animators and a 120 million yuan ($18 million) budget - making it the most expensive Chinese animated film - has revived the country's animation industry. Director Sun Lijun, also president of the Animation College of Beijing Film Academy, has shown that traditional Chinese themes can be adapted to the big screen.
Chinese animation films are not only seeking to break Hollywood dominance at home, but are also eyeing a piece of the global pie.
In an interview with CNTV last November, Sun said Legend of a Rabbit was "our answer to the onslaught of the Hollywood animation blockbusters". He added that his film "will make a strong competitor with its cultural uniqueness".
Online Web portal Sohu.com has reported that talks have begun about dubbing Legend of a Rabbit in English.
Meanwhile, the two big Hollywood movies leading the competition this summer are Cars 2 and Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. They are the latest installments of movie series that ran away with the box office in China, according to Boxofficemojo.com. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen was the country's No 1 box-office champ when it was released in 2009.
Cars 2, the product of Disney and Pixar, tries to reprise the magic of the first Cars. But this time it goes for an action-packed story of spy games instead of nostalgia. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, on the other hand, sticks to the winning formula of big wind-up robots bashing one another.
Looking at these two sure-hit Hollywood blockbusters, it is easy to see that Cars 2 is the better movie, but the giant robots of Transformers are bound to make this a money spinner.
The Chinese challenge also includes the 2D films Cribug and Tibetan Mastiff, which, along with Rabbit, are in theaters now.
While Legend of a Rabbit presents in 3D the story of Tu Yeye, a messiah-esque rabbit that falls from the moon to save the world from famine and destruction, Tibetan Mastiff follows a boy on his journey to Tibet to find his father. Along the way, he runs into an injured Tibetan Mastiff he nurses back to health.
A scene from the 2D Chinese animation film, Tibetan Mastiff.
Cribug, that could well be one of the most visually appealing domestic 2D animated film in a long time, tells the story of a boy who sets off to hunt down the legendary avatar of destruction, only to make a stunning discovery.
While Transformers 3 and Cars 2 are the two biggest names coming from abroad, there are others, too, with big names and nostalgic appeal in China, such as The Smurfs and Winnie the Pooh.
So, can domestically made animated films stand up to Hollywood?
The short answer is, no.
While a movie like Legend of a Rabbit may have more domestic support, and make a greater cultural connection with its audience, it still does not match up to Hollywood standards.
Bi Chenggong, a Sina Weibo film critic, says domestic films, as a whole, are still a work in progress.
"Domestic animation studios are still perfecting their techniques. They are not yet a match for movies done by the West," Bi says.
Bi says he believes the country's animated film industry is still years away from competing with the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks. Bi also dismisses Cribug for being patterned after the Japanese manga style.
Although Chinese animated films are getting better with more funding, and there is a big push to give these movies international appeal, Hollywood, with years of experience behind it, still has the upper hand.
Cars 2 will be released on Aug 1 and Transformers 3 on July 21.