Studio partners with China Animation Group, Tencent

Two months after DreamWorks Animation set up shop in China, Disney has found its own government partner to grow the country’s animation industry in a move that should help promote the Mouse House’s own brand in the region.

Together with the Ministry of Culture’s China Animation Group and Internet service provider Tencent, Disney will form what has been dubbed the National Animation Creative Research and Development Cooperation.

Deal was announced Tuesday with much fanfare and a signing ceremony in Beijing.

The aim of the project is to “advance the animation industry in China, train local talent and promote the development of Chinese content and franchises to an international standard,” Disney said in a statement.

“The National Animation Creative Research and Development initiative is focused on nurturing local talent and recognizes the importance of developing original local animation content,” said Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney Intl. “Disney’s involvement builds on our expertise and long-term commitment to nurture the local original animation industry. As founding partner, we look forward to working with this new creative partnership in creating content for the Chinese and international marketplace.”

Disney will provide expertise for story writing, screening and market research to create content to an international standard, the statement added.

“Our philosophy is to operate as the Chinese Walt Disney Co. and as such will remain front and center to help local creative talent realize their dreams and help to create one of the most dynamic original animation industry sectors in the world,” said Stanley Cheung, managing director of the Walt Disney Co. China.

Tencent, China’s largest Web portal, will help market the productions, which will be developed for television, film and digital platforms.

China is keen to boost the local toon biz in the face of strong competish from overseas, notably the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Japanese anime offerings, which generated healthy box office at local megaplexes or generated a strong local following.

DreamWorks Animation announced a Chinese joint venture for the local market in February (Daily Variety, Feb. 17), when China’s vice president and anointed leader Xi Jinping traveled to L.A.

Oriental DreamWorks, a Shanghai-based toon studio, will operate as a joint venture with China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment. Venture is backed with $330 million in cash and other assets, and will develop and produce original Chinese animated and live-action content for distribution both within China and in other worldwide territories. Goal is to release one animated film each year starting in 2016, and two annually after 2018.

With the Chinese government previously limiting foreign pics to 20 a year — now, 14 more will be allowed — companies like DWA, Legendary, Relativity, and now Disney, have sought out partnerships within China to produce homegrown fare that can circumvent regulations.

Disney already is building a new theme park in Shanghai, its fourth overseas after Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

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