Disney on board for China's 'Panda'

Will market, distribute film shot in quake-hit region

Complete Shanghai film fest coverage

SHANGHAI -- Disney will handle world marketing and distribution for the Chinese feature "Touch of the Panda," now nearing completion in the earthquake-stricken Sichuan province, executives said Monday at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

While not a co-production, Disney was involved in preproduction creative consulting on the film about an abandoned panda cub rescued by an orphaned boy.

Produced by Chinese companies Castle Hero Pictures and Beijing-based Ying Dong Media, "Panda" began shooting in March in the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve in southwest China's Sichuan province. It was nearly finished when, on May 12, a 7.9 quake hit, killing more than 70,000 people.

Twenty-eight members of the film's second crew, including one American, were forced to escape on foot, leaving B-roll film and equipment behind, Jason Reed, executive vp Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, told The Hollywood Reporter. The crew was out of contact for three days, Reed said.

"They were a little shaken ... but everyone was safe. They had to hike out through some of the mountains when they were rescued by the Chinese military," Reed said.

Eventually, filmmakers were able to return to the site and recover most of their equipment and footage. The seven pandas featured in the movie were not affected by the earthquake, but one other panda died, Reed said.

The film stars Japanese child actor Daichi Harashima and is directed by Chinese director Yu Zhong. Screenwriter Jean Chaolpin and Jennifer Liu are producing the film.

Reed said the quake, which left 5 million Chinese homeless, will not feature in the film but may become part of the marketing. "It certainly adds another layer of poignancy to the film," Reed said.

"Panda" is scheduled to be released in February, during the Lunar New Year holiday season.

Reed said Disney joined "Panda" to build on momentum established in China last year by its first Chinese co-production, "The Secret of the Magic Gourd."

Disney hopes to sell the film "where Chinese films translate," such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia, Reed said, adding that Disney has no plans for an English remake. With dubbing or subtitles, the film could show in Europe and Latin America, he said.