Here’s the pitch: An action-comedy CG animated children’s film set in ancient China, where the hero is a likable and somewhat roly-poly talking animal who subverts the traditional notion of more rotund members of society being less coordinated. He’s sort of bumbling, but ultimately has a good heart and succeeds in the end with whatever quest he’s found himself saddled with. Oh, and he’s a cook that works with flour starch products! Yeah, because overweight characters loooove their food to the extent that they’re unsuitable for any other profession.
Plus, there’s Kung Fu involved. The comic visual aspect of such a portly protagonist doing his best Jackie Chan impersonation works like cinematic catnip on moviegoers, and is pretty much irresistible for kids and kidults alike.
Why didn’t anyone think of this earlier? It sounds like it’d be a hit!
‘Legend of a Rabbit’ (兔侠传奇), a new film from Tianjin North Film Group and Beijing Film Academy, in conjunction with the Beijing Century Colorful Butterfly Animation Design Limited Company, takes this sure-fire winner of a concept to theaters on July 11th across theaters in China. Hollywood, are you paying attention? The original ideas for family films are coming out of China now!
One thing we do find strange is that the main protagonist, Second Grandpa Rabbit (兔二爷), besides being dull, generic and a little annoying, has the beadiest little eyes. Is this what counts for sinicizing an animated character? Making the eyes as little as possible, and thus occluding the expressive possibilities available with a larger-eyed figure? It might be appropriate for a comic relief sidekick perhaps, but definitely not for your main woodland creature that the audience is expected to relate to.
And strangely enough, the main evil oppressive bully in the film is a panda. Huh, now why would that be? We thought pandas were loved the world over, and why a panda would be depicted negatively in ‘Legend of a Rabbit’ is an enduring mystery that we’ll have to sleep on for the time being.
If the filmmakers thought that they were able to achieve a truer depiction of Chinese culture than others, they can rest assured that they did in fact succeed. However, they might think they’ve done so simply by adding in a few rhyming wordplay sequences that will amuse only if you’re fluent in Mandarin, amongst other assorted flourishes of Chineseness, but they would be wrong.
They most represent contemporary Chinese culture in that they’ve taken something already successful and simply concocted an uninspired knock-off version of the original, all the while underestimating their audience’s ability to sniff the difference.
Which, at least in the context of films, is a heartening sign that China’s creative industry is maturing, if they’re now following in Hollywood’s footsteps in producing unnecessary derivative remakes of foreign hits. Whoop-dee-doo.