China Opens $690 Million Animation Facility Near Beijing

The port city of Tianjin's new facility looks to take on foreign cartoons like 'Kung Fu Panda 2.'

BEIJING – China has opened a 4.5 billion yuan ($690 million) animation facility in Tianjin, the port city nearest the capital, Beijing, giving the domestic cartoon industry a much-needed boost just as Kung Fu Panda 2 reminds China how far behind Hollywood it is.

More than 180 firms have signed up for animation production and related services at the state-backed 190 acre base, located in the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, about 30 minutes by high-speed rail from Beijing, the Xinhua news agency reported over the weekend.

Kung Fu Panda 2’s opening on Saturday to packed cinemas in Beijing was a strong reminder that no animated Chinese feature has ever made it big outside China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, yet Hollywood is able to co-opt a Chinese symbol and laugh all the way to the bank.

In 2008, DreamWorks Animation’s original Kung Fu Panda was the first animated feature to gross more than 100 million yuan at China’s box office, which, three years ago, equaled about $15.2 million.

At an opening ceremony for the new Tianjin facility on Friday, China’s Minister of Culture, Cai Wu, said that animation production was a part of China’s overall development plan for its cultural industries from 2011-2015.

China’s one-party central government, which is expected to undergo a leadership transition in 2012, introduced its latest five-year plan earlier this year. Much was said about the importance of media in promoting China’s image overseas.

According to Xinhua, Cai said that over the past two years the culture ministry and the Tianjin government had worked together toward the development of a domestic animation industry that would include fund raising, financial and technology services.

The Tianjin animation base will be developed into a center for production, trading, exhibition, training, research and development and international exchanges, Cai said, according to Xinhua.

Earlier this year, Legend of a Rabbit, a feature-length 3D cartoon about a humble bunny who takes on a badass panda to save a kung fu school, was announced as the Tianjin Film Studio’s $12 million attempt to give Kung Fu Panda 2 a run for its money.

Kung Fu Panda made $633 million worldwide. No Chinese animation character is known much wider than Greater China.

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