It is a curious coincidence that an animated film becomes a dark horse in the Chinese film box office competition at the end of these recent two years.
In 2016, Japanese director Makoto Shinkai’s youth-fantasy film Your Name caused a huge sensation in China, while this year’s answer may go to Pixar Animation Studios’ Coco.
Since its premiere in China Nov 24, the musical fantasy film has already taken in over 602 million yuan ($91.03 million) so far.
Against the backdrop of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, a day dedicated to celebrating family members who have died, the animation centers on a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who is accidentally transported to the land of the dead, where he seeks the help of his great-great-grandfather to help him be a great musician and also return him to his family among the living.
Coco has scored 9.1 of 10 points at the popular Chinese movie review website Douban for its warm story, popular soundtrack and, most of all, meaningful theme.
However, the film did not win the favor of Chinese moviegoers at first because of the poor translation of the film title.
In Chinese version, the film was called “Xun Meng Huan You Ji”, which means the “the journey to chase dreams” in Chinese.
“It is not a good idea to give the film such an improper name. The film is more than just a little boy’s musical dreams -- it also explores the meaning of life and death,” said a Sina Weibo user Gui Xudong.
“The awful translation almost made me miss such a great animated film. When I first noticed its name, I thought it was just another Forrest Gump. However, I was wrong and should never judge a book by its cover,” said the Sina Weibo user Xiao Pihai_1212.
In recent years, a number of inspirational movies have graced the big screen in turns, such as the Indian biographical sports film Dangal and the American musical film Sing. Films like these enjoy huge success in China and keep injecting positive energy to the audience.
However, too much is as bad as too little, and many audiences may have experienced "aesthetic fatigue" and longed for a change.
Through attaching great importance to family memories and the meaning of death, Coco made a timely appearance, successfully persuading the public into buying tickets and enjoying precious family moments.
If you know little about Mexico, Coco is a great help in promoting the local culture. In the film, quite a few Mexican cultural elements have been fully reflected.
For example, the typical Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Death, is meaningful to Mexicans, just as Lunar New Year is to Chinese. Also, the hairless dog Xoloizcuintle guides those who just passed away into the land of the dead.
Also, some locations featured in the animation have gained much attention on Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Sina Weibo. And many people expressed their hopes to visit to these scenic spots in the future.
Meanwhile, the film’s universal values – that you should cherish your family and loved ones -- won much appreciation from the audiences, regardless of where they were.
“The boy’s grandma Coco reminded me of my grandmother. The wrinkles in her face and hands brought back memories of the loss of my grandmother, I couldn’t help but sob at the cinema,” said the netizen Xu Lingling.
Profound truths through an animated film
The meaning of life and death is an eternal issue for humans. And it seems unlikely to be explored in animation, but the truth is more animated films are going in that direction.
Coco tells us, “Death is not a scary thing at all, but being forgotten by others should be.”
“The physical death is not the final destination. The moment when no living people remember who you are, then you have gone forever,” is one of the most impressive lyrics in the film.
The Chinese animated feature Big Fish and Begonia, winner of 15th Anilogue International Animation Festival, and the Chinese-style animated film Da Hufa also discuss similar themes and have been well-received in the domestic film industry.
Deeply rooted in Chinese mythology, the two films are both set in a fictional wonderland that connects the human world.
Big Fish and Begonia thinks the human soul is actually a fish whose journey across the ocean shows the different stages of life, while the latter focuses on the origin of life and meaning of living.
“Animation is not just for kids, but for people of all ages. Chinese animated films have boomed and drawn more audiences back to the animated world in the past several years,” says Liang Xuan, director of Big Fish and Begonia.
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