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Cannes: China’s Animation Sector Is Drawing Up Plans to Conquer the Global Market



There were two bigger box office hits in China over the Lunar New Year, but the returns enjoyed by Boonie Bears: Guardian Code may, in hindsight, turn out to be the result that actually points to an emerging trend in Chinese cinema.

The country’s animation industry is certainly hoping so.

In collecting an estimated $136 million (RMB 924 million) over its eight-day festive-season run, the ninth installment of the Boonie Bears The franchise found itself tucked behind two blockbusters: veteran helmer Zhang Yimou’s period thriller Full River Redcollector of an estimated $465 million (RMB 3.16 billion), and Frank Guo’s sci-fi sequel The Wandering Earth 2 with $378 million (RMB 2.57 billion).

But the bigger picture is how the film held its own against two such high-profile releases on its way to a total of more than $220 million (RMB 1.5 billion), and amid reports that it had been sold to a slew of international markets, including the United Kingdom (Media Pioneers & Factoris), Canada (Cinemaguzzo), the Middle East (Phoenicia), sub-Saharan Africa (RedHead Global), and Singapore and Malaysia (MM2). Netflix had caught on to the bears’ rising popularity with a streaming deal signed as far back as 2018, and over five films, the franchise’s collective box office has reached around $880 million worldwide, while the actual business of the Boonie Bears has stretched out into theme parks and hotels.

“Importantly, we make films mainly for families, not just for children, and creating media for both youngsters and their parents to enjoy together enables us to continuously expand our market,” says Daisy Shang, CEO of Boonie Bears producer Fantawild Animation Inc.

The Boonie Bears franchise follows the exploits of Briar and Bramble, two lovable bears whose adventures have, across nine installments, expanded from the original TV series concept of the bears and their friends trying to protect their forest from loggers to such big-screen adventures as a search for the mother they thought they had lost to a forest fire.

Fantawild Animation is among a number of Chinese studios in Cannes this year to shed light both on what has been produced in China over the past few years — when the global COVID pandemic not only hit production output but kept the Chinese industry pretty much confined within its own borders — and what’s on the horizon in terms of trends in animation content.

Shang believes concentrating on themes that are universal has led to the franchise’s success — and she cites friendship, family relationships, self-development, and even environmental protection and sustainability as examples of this.

“We use our recognizable aesthetic and large public platform to examine these important universal topics in an enjoyable way,” Shang says. “We do not only consider if a story works well in the current climate, we also aim to produce content which can travel the globe and withstand the test of time.”

It’s an indication of just how far Chinese animation has come — and in such a relatively short time.

The Beijing-based Light Chaser Animation is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and its co-founder Yu Zhou is one of the people behind the annual TOPU International Animation Week, staged each October in Nantong City, in the coastal province of Jiangsu.

Yu recently walked The News84Media through the history of Chinese animation, a genre that dates to 1935, when The Camel’s Dance and, six years later, Princess Iron Fan became the first major Chinese animated films and marked the emergence of the filmmaking Wan brothers — Guchan and Laiming — and the rise of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, the mainstay of the country’s animation industry from the 1950s until now. The number of animation studios in China is rising, simply to meet the increasing domestic and global demand for the genre, says Yu.

While those early features leaned towards the style of traditional ink painting, it has only been in the last 10 years that Chinese animation has concentrated on computer-generated imagery, says Yu. At first, his company traveled to Hollywood to seek advice from the likes of Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, and Sony, then they returned and started looking for Chinese talent.

Yu believes the scope of Chinese animation is shifting to accommodate emerging markets for the genre.

“If you talk Hollywood, they are mainly family entertainment, not targeting young adults, but for the China market our work has always been targeted towards people in their 20s or teenagers,” he says. “That has made a big difference at home and also presents great possibilities for us internationally.”

In addition to the family-focused Boonie Bears franchise, among the most recent Chinese animation hits in China are Yao-Chinese Folktalesbased on a series of popular ancient tales, which had 10 million views in the three days after its release on streaming platform Bilibili, and the Netflix-backed Scissor Sevenwhich follows the travails of a hitman-turned-hairdresser.

Yu believes these productions are catering to a YA market that grew up tapping into Chinese animation on their mobile devices — as opposed to his generation, which had no real frame of reference for the genre outside of occasional exposure to the work of major mainstream Hollywood. and Japanese studios. He cites his own studio’s recent hit White Snake franchise — which chronicles the love story between a snake hunter and snake spirit — as an example of how Chinese studios are now targeting this growing demographic, with its tales of youthful romance combined with frenetic action. The latest installment, 2021’s White Snake 2: Green Snakecollected a healthy $90 million (RMB 623 million) domestically.

“They have grown up watching animation,” he says. “What we want now is for animation to be regarded like classic films. We want our films to be not only for people who are fans of animation but for the general audience, for general people.”

The Guangzhou-based Gold Valley Films has brought its latest production, Little Emma, to Cannes — fresh from unveiling a six-film deal with the India-based Toonz Feature Film Division. The film follows Emma, ​​a miniature girl who is adopted by animal parents but longs to know the truth about her human roots, and the studio is in town scouting for international partners.

Allen Tsang, GVF’s head of international, has also identified the YA audience as an important source of growth, along with collaborations with international creatives. An example was GVF’s take on Cinderellawhich was skewed towards a contemporary mindset.

“Cinderella saves the prince, it’s not the prince saving Cinderella,” says Tsang of the studio’s 2018 release. Cinderella and the Secret Prince. “That’s the kind of story we want to make to reach an international audience. We are high concept, but in working with India the costs are lower — the films are very high quality but the price is very reasonable. That’s what we can now offer.”

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