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China’s Best Animated Films Set to Unspool at Annecy Festival

Variety logo Variety 6/8/2017 Chris Colman
© Provided by Variety

The Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival (June 12-17) will provide an opportunity to glimpse the first output from a crop of new Chinese studios that have turned their attention to original feature animation.

Original Force Animation will preview shots from debut effort “Duck Duck Goose,” set for release in 2018. One of China’s oldest CG animation service studios, the company opened its feature animation division in 2015, led by veteran Hollywood producers Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, a duo responsible for launching operations at DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation. The company has been unequivocal in its intention to make global movies, and though “Duck Duck Goose” is set in China, the project has been very much raised in Hollywood. Written by Christopher Jenkins and Rob Muir, and directed by Jenkins, all front-end work has been handled at the company’s development studio in Culver City, Calif.

Following a similar “story in Hollywood, production in China” model is “Wish Dragon,” the first original animated feature from Beijing-headquartered visual effects powerhouse Base FX.

Having struck up a strategic partnership with ILM and delivered shots on countless Hollywood and Chinese blockbusters across its 11-year history, Base last year announced it was stepping into original animated features. Debut project “Wish Dragon” is a Chinese reimagining of the Aladdin story, created by Chris Appelhans.

Annecy will also host the world premiere of “Tea Pets,” the second feature from Light Chaser Animation, the Beijing creative and production studio founded by tech billionaire Gary Wang. From the outset, Wang declared his dedication to quality and cutting edge technology, to emulate companies like Pixar. Light Chaser’s first two features, written and directed by Wang himself, have focused on the clash between traditional Chinese culture and modern society. Debut feature “Little Door Gods” received a lukewarm reception in China. Annecy will provide an even sterner test for the follow-up.

Director Liu Jian’s “Have a Nice Day” offers something edgier and highly unusual from China. His 2D, hand-drawn piece about an assortment of reprobates chasing a bag of money in a run-down urban district in southern China paints a bleak picture of modern materialism. Made over three years by Liu and a small team of animators, the film received positive reviews at the 2017 Berlinale for its multiple narrative structure and dark wit.

Perhaps China’s highest-profile international studio, Oriental DreamWorks will host Mifa’s Territory Focus panel session. ODW’s next feature, “Everest,” rumored to be the biggest-budget Chinese project yet, is being developed in Shanghai and distributed by Universal.

Tencent Animation & Comics, exhibiting at Mifa, is an online comic platform hosting 22,000 local and international properties.

China’s unpredictable market means any IP with an existing fan-base is ripe for movie adaptation, and Tencent recently announced that “Zombie Brother,” already adapted into an animated series, would receive a live-action makeover for the international market.

Alpha Pictures, which launched an animation unit in Los Angeles last summer and exhibits at Mifa, has followed a similar strategy, purchasing online comic platform U17.com in 2015.

Finally, look out for “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” sequel “Havoc in Heaven,” for which Tian Xiaopeng returns as director, slated for release in 2018. It comes from Color Room, the animation and live action division of film production giant Enlight Media, the primary investor in 2016’s “Big Fish & Begonia,” which went on to become the third-highest-grossing Chinese animated feature of all time. It also screens at Annecy.

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