Disney’s Zootopia has enjoyed spectacular success in China – suggesting that animal charactered films are a winner with local audiences. Here is why.
Recently, we have analysed the success of Kung Fu Panda 3 at the local box office. Many factors could explain the films success – a Chinese story, two previously successful films to build on, some seriously famous Chinese voice actors and very savvy digital marketing – see our report 😉
But as a semiotician, there was a further factor that appeared to really work for local audiences – the use of animals as characters. Perhaps an isolated case, but Zootopia’s spectacular success suggests this requires some further explanation.
So why do China’s increasing number of movie goers love animal-based films?
From a semiotic (and cultural) perspective, here are three reasons why
- There is no cultural dissonance in regards to animals – the animal kingdom does not have cultural confusion or human stereotypes. Westerners know animals, just as Chinese know animals. There is no previous knowledge or cultural training required to understand Zootopia or Kung Fu Panda, they are naturally and wonderfully universal in expression.
- A second, but related, cultural point is that an animal-based film does not come across as foreign. Symbolically it is not something that requires you to ‘decipher’ or ‘connect with’. Comparing two recent films released in China – Eddie the Eagle and Zootopia – the former endured one of the worst openings in China film history, while the latter created new milestones. The former requires Chinese movie goers to ask “Who the *** is Eddie the Eagle”, while the latter requires nothing but a level of natural curiosity for the animal kingdom.
- Looking specifically at Zootopia, the subjects of biology were taught in Chinese schools in largely the same way as the West without political or ideological filtering. So in an important way, Chinese are engaging with the content from the same starting point.
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