Has Chinese animation been influential on a global scale?

Since the advent of traditional animation over a century ago many notable figures and companies within the field have left their mark on the world. Disney, Warner Bros., Pixar, and DreamWorks, to name a few, have all made enormous contributions throughout the years to the field of animation and have gone on to achieve massive international success. This success is not limited to Hollywood or even the Western world. Japan’s Studio Ghibli has also gone on to captivate viewers across the globe, proving that animation is something that can be enjoyed universally and that the Eastern world is also more than capable of creating animated masterpieces.

Since the 1920’s China’s animation companies have produced and released many animated films domestically, all to varying degrees of success. However, China’s animation industry is practically unknown overseas. Perhaps this is due to the stories translating badly when released internationally. Or perhaps this is due to Chinese heritage taking over the focus of the film rather than the story itself. Whatever the reason, China’s animation history is still noteworthy and fascinating.

The earliest innovators in Chinese animation were the Wan family, twins Laiming and Guchan with their brothers Chaochen and Dihuan. Drawing inspiration from American and Western cartoons, The Wan family produced The Camel’s Dance in 1935, the first Chinese cartoon with sound. The Wan brothers later went on to create China’s very first animated feature length film, Princess Iron Fan.

Princess Iron Fan; a film about a princess whose fan is urgently needed to extinguish the flames surrounding a mountain village, was released on January 1, 1941 and took three years, 237 artists and 350,000 yuan to make. Historically significant, yet somewhat flawed, Princess Iron Fan never achieved the same global impact or success as say Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Over the years there have been many animated films released in China, including Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979), Monkeys Fish For the Moon (1981), or Feeling From Mountains and Water (1988).

And while these films were all fairly successful within China and some other parts of Asia, they did not go on to receive the same success internationally. I feel the reason for this is because of the sheer scale and dominance of Japan and America’s global animation success which has sadly overshadowed traditional Chinese animations.

The work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in particular is worth mentioning as these films are quintessentially Japanese in their style and feel, yet these cultural influences never overpower the story, but rather compliment it, thus allowing Western audiences to enjoy the film while experiencing Asian culture. Spirited Away was the first foreign language animated film to win an Academy Award, proving Japan’s talent with regards to creating a harmonious balance between national heritage and the art of story-telling.

Happy Lamb and Grey Wolf or Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf is a Chinese animated television series created by Huang Weiming, Lin Yuting and Luo Yinggeng, The show revolves around the story of a group of joyful goats and an inept wolf who wishes to devour them. The show is not only aired across China, but is also aired in Taiwan, India and Singapore. The show has also gone on to spawn a fairly successful movie franchise too, however neither the Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf television show or the movie franchise have seen an international release outside of Asia. The reasons for this are unclear.

After all, it’s not as if there isn’t a thirst for Eastern flavoured cartoons in the West. Foreign animations such as Pokemon have already seen worldwide success, generating enormous financial figures.

The worldwide animation industry is dominated by American and Japanese films and cartoons, meaning that China faces more competition now than ever. It is a shame that Chinese animation has been considerably overshadowed as there are some truly beautiful pieces of animation that not only highlights the dedication and hard work that goes into making these cartoons, but it also highlights China’s grand yet mysterious heritage that I feel would fascinate and entertain Western audiences of all ages.