Animated Films Attract Chinese Audience

May 10, 2018  Editor: Xie Wen
Nora Twomey [China Daily]


A string of Academy Awards is helping to put an Irish animation studio on the map. Xu Fan looks at how its films may be received by Chinese audiences.

Irish director Nora Twomey believes her new animated movie may resonate with Chinese because of its similarities with the story of Hua Mulan, the brave daughter who disguises herself as a young man to take her father's place in the emperor's army.

Indeed, her new film, The Breadwinner, which is set in Afghanistan, resembles the Chinese ballad first transcribed 1,500 years ago, she explains during the 14th China International Cartoon & Animation Festival in Zhejiang's provincial capital, Hangzhou.

The animator-director shared some of the film's behind-the-scenes stories at the event.

When it comes to animated movies, most Chinese people would expect their favorite flicks to hail from Hollywood or Japan.

But thanks to glowing word-of-mouth reviews from a growing group of Chinese moviegoers, Irish animated films have steadily been gaining recognition for their culturally distinctive features in movies such as The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner.

While it might seem like a coincidence that all three of these films received a nomination for best animated feature at the Academy Awards in 2009, 2015 and 2018, respectively, it may come as no surprise that these movies were all produced by Cartoon Saloon, an animation studio based in Kilkenny, a town in southeastern Ireland.

Twomey, who co-founded Cartoon Saloon with two friends in 1999, recalls the inspiration for The Breadwinner, which was adapted from the 2000 children's novel of the same name, and was originally penned by Canadian author Deborah Ellis.

"Ellis is an incredible woman. She's interested in the rights of children around the world. When I read her book, I was very inspired," recalls Twomey, during an interview on the sidelines of the event with China Daily.

Set in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2001, the 94-minute film centers on Parvana, an 11-year-old girl whose father is arrested by the Taliban. Since women are not permitted to leave their homes without a male escort or even earn a living under Taliban's rule, Parvana cuts off her hair to disguise herself as a boy to help support her family and seek a way to rescue her father.

"Parvana is just a normal little girl who goes through normal little girl stuff, but she's also incredibly brave while living through an extraordinary time," says Twomey.

Memories formed at a young age can often fuel a creative passion, and for the 46-year-old director, the impression left by the conflict in the Northern Ireland as she was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s is indelibly etched on her mind.

"We know how vulnerable peace is and how difficult it is to maintain peace. That gives me a special interest in the subject," she explains.

"It's also the fact that we are independent filmmakers. We have the opportunity to tell a story which might not otherwise be told ... And as a mother, I believe Afghan children deserve the peace that my children have," adds Twomey, who has two boys.

She also reveals that her youngest son, who is now almost 8 years old, performed the voice-over for one of the young characters in the movie.

When asked if the political background might appear too complicated for young viewers, Twomey says she hopes children will discuss the movie with their parents and have their questions answered in the future.

"I look at Parvana the way a mother does. There are also other characters in the film that I identify with. The more you identify with the characters that you are portraying, the deeper the characters will become," says Twomey.

A coproduction of Ireland, Luxembourg and Canada, the movie gathered together around 300 people from all over the world to work on set painting and voice casting.

Hollywood giant Angelina Jolie, who has traveled to around 50 countries to support refugee families, also came on board as the movie's executive producer.

"I didn't believe she would be involved in the film, until I got a call to meet her in Los Angeles," recalls Twomey, who was so nervous she got lost in the building as soon as she arrived.

Jolie, who has funded girls' education programs in Afghanistan, offered a great deal of guidance and encouragement to the cast and crew, adds Twomey.

Speaking about the key to making a successful film, Twomey says: "If animators focus too much on the box office, they may lose heart. Audiences always respond to the truth and the heart of films and TV shows."

The Breadwinner garnered screenings at both the recent 8th Beijing International Film Festival and the 14th China International Cartoon& Animation Festival in Hangzhou.

Beijing-based China Nebula Picture Film & Television's Tianjin subsidiary has purchased the rights to distribute The Breadwinner on the Chinese mainland, and hopes to have the movie on general release over the summer.


The new animated film, The Breadwinner, is set in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2001, and centers on Parvana, an 11-year-old girl who cuts off her hair to disguise herself as a boy to help support her family and seek a way to rescue her father. [China Daily]


(Source: China Daily)

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