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For only the second time this year, a Disney movie has been denied release in China. Christopher Robin, a live-action/CGI family film that stars Ewan McGregor, received a no-go from the country’s film authorities.
No reason was given for the denial, but a source pinned the blame on China’s crackdown on images of the Winnie the Pooh character, which is featured in a central role in Christopher Robin. Last summer, authorities began blocking pictures of Winnie the Pooh on social media given that the character has become a symbol of the resistance in China with foes of the ruling Communist Party, namely Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Bloggers have drawn comparisons between the pudgy bear and Xi, which has put the country’s censors in overdrive. In June, Chinese authorities blocked HBO after Last Week Tonight host John Oliver mocked Xi’s sensitivity over being compared to Winnie the Pooh.
But an insider counters that the decision likely has to do with the size and scope of the film given the foreign film quota and the fact that there are several new Hollywood tentpoles in the Chinese market right now.
The move won’t likely hurt the PG film much at the box office. Christopher Robin is expected to make a solid debut in the U.S. when it opens today, earning between high $20 millions and $30 million. But it’s still a small blow given that other recent movies from Disney’s live-action division, like 2014’s Maleficent and 2015’s Cinderella, have made tidy sums in China ($48 million and $72 million, respectively).
Disney put Christopher Robin into development in 2015, long before Winnie the Pooh became a lightning rod for controversy in China. And shooting began on the Marc Forster-helmed film in summer 2017 in the United Kingdom, right around the same time the Chinese Winnie the Pooh crackdown began.
The only other Disney film this year to receive a no from China was A Wrinkle in Time. Disney will open Ant-Man and The Wasp in China on Aug. 24, when it will join other Hollywood tentpoles like Skyscraper and Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
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