‘Nezha’ Overtakes ‘Zootopia,’ Sets All-Time Highest-Grossing Chinese Animation Record

By ALEX DUDOK DE WIT

In a single week, Nezha has become the highest-grossing Chinese animated film ever. Through Friday, the cg feature — which hit China’s theaters on July 26 — had grossed $243.1 million (1.68 billion yuan). That beats the the $220 million gross of Disney’s Zootopia, which was the previous record-holder for highest-grossing animated film in the country.

It also puts the film far ahead of the previous highest-grossing Chinese-produced animated feature, Monkey King: Hero Is Back, which took $153 million in 2015.

Maoyan, China’s foremost movie ticketing platform, reports that more than half the audience is in the 20–29 age bracket. It predicts that Nezha will finish with more than $500 million. (The film was produced by Enlight Media, one of Maoyan’s shareholders.)

Nezha is an effects-laden fantasy epic starring the eponymous boy, a folk hero in China. While Nezha is normally depicted as a heroic rebel fighter, the film reimagines him as something of a mischief maker. It was directed and written by Yang “Jiaozi” Yu, who first came to prominence a decade ago, when his short film See Through picked up a number of awards.

The film’s triumph reflects the appetite for homegrown stories — especially myths — at the Chinese box office (although their success is also partly due to the government’s protectionist policies). Folklore has always been at the heart of the industry: China’s first animated feature, Princess Iron Fan (1941), was inspired by local legends. This tendency continues today in works like Monkey King: Hero Is Back and White Snake, which grossed $65 million in January.

The country’s film industry will take heart from Nezha’s performance, which comes after months of low box office revenue. Four high-profile films have had their releases abruptly cancelled, apparently for reasons of censorship. Meanwhile, a huge tax scandal led to a regulatory clampdown, which has made investors wary of backing new films. This Bloomberg article has more on the subject.