China, Japan Studio Giants Team on Big-Budget Animation 'The Monkey Prince'

Thos Robinson/Getty Images for AFM
Jeffrey Chan

John A. Davis ('Ant Bully') will direct from a script written by Academy Award-nominees J. David Stem and David N. Weiss ('Shrek 2'), with Beijing-based Bona Film Group and Japan's Toei Animation producing.

Japanese film company Toei Animation and Chinese entertainment giant Bona Film Group are partnering on the tentpole animated film The Monkey Prince.

The companies unveiled the project Wednesday at the Tokyo Film Festival's TIFFCOM market.

The film’s original story is inspired by the oft-adapted Chinese classic Journey to the West, with characters designed by Naoto Ohshima, creator of the iconic video game staple Sonic The Hedgehog. The partners say their strengths will be combined "to create a magical film that embraces the power of anime style, a great Chinese legend and the universal appeal of Hollywood storytelling." 

John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Ant Bully) will direct a script written by Academy Award-nominated writers J. David Stem and David N. Weiss (Shrek 2, the Smurfs franchise). Takao Noguchi, an experienced Japanese character designer and DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation veteran, also will serve as a character designer and associate director.

Chuck Williams, formerly of Pixar and Disney Animation (Brother Bear, Beauty and the Beast), will produce, focusing on bridging the animation industry cultures of Japan, China and the U.S.

Williams appeared in a video message played for the crowd in Tokyo on Wednesday. He explained that the producers would pursue a universal, Hollywood-style storytelling approach for the film, but that the film's visual style would have a Japanese anime touch.

"Anime characters have worked so well around the world," Williams said. "We felt it would help lend the film a unique feel to develop the characters with bright-colors and an anime style."

The film is being produced first in English for the worldwide marketplace, but it will also be adapted and reanimated slightly in a special Mandarin version for China. 

The project has already been approved as an official Chinese co-production by the Chinese authorities with Bona Film Group as the lead Chinese co-producer. Bona executive vp Jeffrey Chan said the partners have been working on developing the project for "over three years." The film is expected to take approximately two years to complete.

"The next step is to select an experienced Chinese animation studio to work with on the production side — we are meeting with several companies — as well as some experienced producers int he Chinese film world, to get on board," Chan said. 

Toei Animation is forming a new company, Tehn Animation Magic Inc, with Tokyo-based Sammy and Sola Entertainment, and Japan’s leading CGI production studio Sanzigen, to be the production hub for The Monkey Prince. Tenh Animation will persist beyond this initial launch project to work with experienced animation studios in Japan and China on future films, the company said. 

Bona is formally partnering on The Monkey Prince via its newly launched affiliate production banner A Really Good Film.