Filmmakers eye wider viewership with engaging content

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China's struggling animation industry has for long been criticized for productions that don't attract adult audiences. But this summer, things seem to be changing.

Xue Zhiqian, who sings for the animation movie Throne of Elves, attends a promotional event in Beijing. [Photo / China Daily]

At least six of the 12 Chinese animation films, which have been released since June or are about to hit the theaters, are targeting a wider viewership, going by their storylines.

Big Fish & Begonia, despite the feedback, is a breakthrough film in this regard.

Rooted in ancient Chinese myths and legends, the tale has touched the hearts of young women in particular.

Rock Dog, symbolizing rock star Zheng Jun's spirit, has got a thumbs-up from families for its inspirational content.

And Warrior vs Dragon, a Chinese cartoon adaptation of the video game World of Warcraft, is enticing viewers in their 30s, who see the movie as a reflection of their coming-of-age years when they were addicted to video games.

This kind of cultural resonance can also be seen in the upcoming McDull, Rise of the Rice Cooker. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the birth of McDull, a pig dreaming of becoming a superhero.

Throne of Elves is another film that shows the Chinese animators' urge to reach a wider audience.

At test screenings being held in 50 cities, the producers want people born in the 1970s and '80s to watch the film.

In the meantime, the makers of animation films are increasingly using celebrities to do voice-overs or theme songs for their films to attract audiences.

For instance, you have Hong Kong megastar Eason Chan singing in Big Fish & Begonia and award-winning singer Xue Zhiqian in Throne of Elves.

For industry watchers, the transition is a natural progression, spawned by last year's smash hit Monkey King: Hero Is Back.

As Wang Changtian, president of China's largest private entertainment firm, Enlight Media, which has invested in 22 animation films since last year, says: "Obviously, domestic filmmakers want their titles to be family-friendly, but not only for children."

Saying that animation films will soon account for around 15 percent of China's box-office takings, Wang says family-friendly titles or youth-focused movies will become mainstream content in China, just like in the United States and Japan.

But he says: "Chinese adults have yet to get into the habit of watching animation films in cinemas," and adds that cinema chains are also biased against domestic animation films, leading to the much fewer screenings compared with live-action titles.

Statistics show China's total output of animation content rose from 21,800 minutes in 2004 to 260,000 minutes in 2011, despite a slight fall in more recent years.

But Lu Shengzhang, an animation professor at the Communication University of China, says: "Quality does not equal quantity."

He says Chinese animators have to focus on creativity and originality to produce quality films, which will draw viewers of all ages.


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