China Court Fines Cartoon Producers After Kids Burned in Copycat Incident
The producers of China's most popular animated series, Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, have been fined $6,423 (39,000 yuan) after two children sustained severe burns while mimicking characters from the show.
Pleasant Goat tells a story of a group of cheerful goats living on a meadow and the woebegone Big, Big Wolf's repeated doomed efforts to slaughter them.
In April, a 10-year-old boy in Jiangsu province in eastern China set fire to two brothers, aged 8 and 4, after tying them to a tree and setting fire to it using dry leaves, in imitation of an episode of the show.
The Donghai County People's Court ordered producers -- Guangdong-based Creative Power Entertaining -- to pay the victims compensation to cover 15 percent of their medical expenses.
The boys' hospital bills were more than $42,800. The parents of the boy who started the fire were ordered to pay 60 percent of the medical bills, while the victims' parents must pay the rest.
"Cartoon producers should rigorously review the scenes and plots that are inappropriate for minors in their products and give warnings like ‘don't imitate'," the court said in the verdict. "There is a cause-and-effect relationship between the case and the violent scenarios in the cartoon."
Parents have complained online that the Big, Big Wolf is beaten nearly 10,000 times and the sheep are nearly cooked more than 800 times before they escape.
The violence on the show has prompted numerous online calls for a classification system for animated TV shows to protect children from harmful content. It has been pulled from Chinese airwaves since the summer break.
The producers said previously they would spend more than 10 million yuan ($1.63 million) on fixing the show, including episodes already aired, although they denied this had anything to do with the copycat violence issues.
The show, which has run around 1,000 episodes, is by far the most popular Chinese animated TV show since it debuted in 2005. Before Pleasant Goat, Chinese animation struggled and was routinely outdone by Spongebob Squarepants.
The franchise has also been an enormous success because of the way it has managed to market merchandise -- a rarity in piracy-heavy China.
The first movie in the franchise, The Super Snail Adventure, was released in 2009 and broke the domestic box-office record for a Chinese animated film. The fifth installment, I Love Wolffy 2, took in nearly $7 million in its first week when it was released in August.
In 2010, The Walt Disney Company secured a license to broadcast 100 episodes of the show on its Disney Channel in 46 countries and regions.
The burning liability case has generated much commentary around the country.
"Parents should watch the cartoons together with their children and tell them what's real and what's fictional," Zeng Fanlin, a professor from the pre-school and special-education school affiliated with East China Normal University, told the China Daily newspaper.
Huang Hao, a Shanghai mother of a 5-year-old boy, said it wasn't just the extreme violence she was worried about.
"Apart from violence, I'm afraid the practice of Big, Big Wolf's wife, who is beating her husband all the time, may harm children's understanding of marriage," she said.