Could the Disney magic be wearing off in China?
The Secret of the Magic Gourd, which comes to Chinese screens in two weeks, is the first locally-made Disney film to be launched in China.
The film recounts the tale of a young boy who befriends an enchanted gourd and is based on a classic Chinese novel by the children's author Zhang Tianyi. It features a soundtrack by the Chinese pop star Baby Zhang.
Promoting local content is an unusual departure for Disney. Are Chinese consumers tiring of the Disney staples? Perhaps. But a more likely explanation is that Disney has recognised that the Chinese market is now of sufficent size and importance that it warrants special attention.
Thomas Staggs, chief finance officer, told the Guardian newspaper:
If you go round the world, local content can be anywhere from an important part of total media consumption to a dominant part. In some markets like China you can get much greater distribution of a film made in the country for that country.”
The film is a co-production with the state-run China Film Group and the Hong Kong-based Centro Digital Pictures.
According to one film expert quoted by the Guardian, the co-production move is also a way for Disney to get around the Chinese government's strict control over the theatrical release of foreign films into the domestic market.
A co-produced film with Chinese content allows Disney to combine its technical skills with local content. This has the double advantages of overcoming the restrictions on theatrical release within China, and increasing appeal to the Chinese market.
Disney already has a well established retail presence in China with more than 4,000 Disney Corner retail outlets. In 2005, Disney opened its first Disneyland theme park aimed at the Chinese market but in Hong Kong rather than mainland China.