'Kung Fu Panda 3' Becomes China's Biggest Animated Film Ever

Kung Fu Panda 3 - Still 2 - Po and his father Li - H 2016
Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

The record is an important milestone for Jeffrey Katzenberg's Shanghai-based Oriental DreamWorks venture, which spared no expense in animating the film in both English and Chinese.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg's recent prediction that Kung Fu Panda 3 would become the biggest animated film ever at the Chinese box office rang true over the weekend.

As of Sunday morning, the pic had earned $144.2 million, sweeping past previous record-holder Monkey King: Hero is Back to claim China's all-time animation crown, according to data from 20th Century Fox, which is distributing the film stateside.

According to data from Beijing-based box office monitor Ent Group, Kung Fu Panda 3 had pulled in 975 million Chinese yuan ($149 million) by the end of Sunday. Monkey King: Hero is Back, directed by first-timer Tian Xiaopeng on a budget of just $16 million, came out of nowhere to gross 956 million Chinese yuan (about $144 million at current exchange rates) last summer. In North America, KFP3 has grossed $128.5 million.

The record is an important milestone for Katzenberg and DWA. Kung Fu Panda 3 is the first film from the studio's burgeoning Shanghai-based venture, Oriental DreamWorks, which was established in 2012 in partnership with two state-backed Chinese companies with a combined investment of $350 million in cash and intellectual capital.

On an earnings call last week, Katzenberg said the budding Chinese studio is on a path to becoming "a leading [content] provider in China." After some initial challenges, Oriental DreamWorks is now in a "very, very enviable and valuable position," he said.

Oriental DreamWorks leveraged its Chinese resources to create an innovative dual-language English and Mandarin release for Kung Fu Panda 3. Unlike typical local-language animated releases, which involve simple overdubbing of dialogue, Kung Fu Panda 3 characters' mouths and body language were animated twice to match the nuances of both languages. In the lead-up to the film's release, Katzenberg predicted that many Chinese filmgoers would see the movie twice out of curiosity about the differences between versions.

Oriental DreamWorks hasn't released a box-office breakdown on the performance of the two versions in China, but the studio says it is pleased with how the experiment paid off.

"We are especially excited by the warm reception of our Mandarin version of the movie," Oriental DreamWorks CEO James Fong told The Hollywood Reporter in an email.

"Kung Fun Panda 3 also gives our studio the confidence to continue to develop and produce our own slate of original content, which we will share in the near future," he said, adding: "For Oriental DreamWorks, the best is yet to come."

The Kung Fu Panda franchise has closely tracked the historic growth of the Chinese theatrical market, which is expected to surpass North America next year as the world's largest. The first film grossed $26 million in 2008 and the second earned an estimated $92 million in 2011 — and each installment has reached a record high for animation in the country.

Although Kung Fu Panda 3 has been overshadowed during the latter half of its run by local titles such as The Mermaid — the Stephen Chow blockbuster has pulled in an astonishing $480 million since its release at the start of Chinese New Year in early February — the former pic has continued kicking, adding modest but steady daily earnings. And it can be expected to continue adding to its animation record: Late last week, the film received permission from Chinese regulators to extend its run by an additional 30 days.