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Discovering Guangdong
16th Asian Games> Beijing Review Exclusive> Discovering Guangdong
UPDATED: November 17, 2010 NO. 46 NOVEMBER 18, 2010
A Pleasant Goat Surprise
A rising Chinese cartoon company looks to reshape the country's traditionally lack-luster animation industry

INTO PLAY: The theater version of the Pleasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf is put on show in Taiyuan of Shanxi Province on August 22, 2010 (CFP)

For decades, Chinese children have sat in front of television sets mesmerized as American cartoon cat Tom chased mouse rival Jerry, or as the Japanese manga robot feline Doraemon helped his schoolboy companion Nobita Nobi. Now, the animated tables are turning and foreign kids are able to enjoy Chinese cartoons from the comfort of their couches.

Creative Power Entertaining, a Guangzhou-based cartoon and animation company, recently signed an agreement with Buena Vista International (BVI), Walt Disney's publishing company, for the broadcasting rights of the latest 100 episodes of its popular cartoon Pleasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf. The program will air in 52 Asia-Pacific countries and regions, including India, Australia and New Zealand, via Disney's broadcasting channels. The cartoon will be broadcast in English and more than 10 local languages.

"This is a milestone in the development of the country's animation industry," said Zhang Xinxiong, Director of the Guangdong Animation and Game Industry Research Center. The agreement marks the first time that a Chinese cartoon publisher will cover such a vast area, Zhang added.

A sheep star is born

A flock of sheep trying to escape the clutches of a pair of hungry wolves wasn't always the basis for Creative Power's cartoon. When brainstorming, several options were on the table, including tiger vs. rabbit, ant vs. elephant and even the typical cat vs. mouse. But the staff of Creative Power decided to make a new classic: the sheep vs. wolf combo. "We're lucky we made that choice. Sheep are mild and adorable, and they are one of the most familiar animals in the world with the fewest religious taboos," said Liu Manyi, General Manager of Creative Power Entertaining.

The artists then had come up with a portfolio of draft drawings of the main characters to gauge viewer reactions. Trials were conducted where kindergartners at schools were shown different drawings and asked which ones were their favorites. Then, with the kid-directed casting complete, the creators got to work. It wasn't long before Pleasant Goat became recognizable across China.

Before even thinking about taking its cartoons international, Creative Power focused on creating a fan base in China since Pleasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf premiered in 2005. In the five years since its debut, the show has landed on over 40 channels across the country with audience ratings reaching a max of 17.3 percent.

The cartoon series was later made into a small-budget movie, costing 6 million yuan ($882,000). The Super Snail Adventure, was launched in January 2009 and became an instant screen hit. On the opening day alone, the movie raked in 8 million yuan ($1.1 million)—twice that of Hollywood's blockbuster Kung Fu Panda—and broke the domestic box office record for an animated film at 90 million yuan ($13 million). A sequel was released in 2010 and took in 130 million yuan ($19 million) at the box office.

The films won various awards, including the best animated film at the 13th Huabiao Film Awards, the country's top film award.

The first Pleasant Goat movie was much more than a screen hit—it became a social phenomenon, captivating children and adults. It produced one of the year's top catch phrases and gave rise to several popular songs. And fans were eager to buy as many Pleasant Goat books, magazines, toys, clothing and other paraphernalia as possible.

"We don't think the movie's success was by accident. We'd already cultivated a fan base of tens of millions of kids through the TV series which has been airing for four years," said Liu.

No fun, no audience

"If the story doesn't look interesting, even the greatest technology can't help," said Shao Haowen, head of the company's PR department. Shao was a veteran screenplay writer for the Pleasant Goat series and other cartoons for a number of years.

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