ANNECY, France — Legendary Chinese director Stephen Chow, the man behind 2004’s dark-horse hit “Kung Fu Hustle,” is in development on ‘The Monkey King’ with Pearl Studio, the Shanghai-based animation company announced Thursday at the Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival.
The studio also unveiled that young actor Albert Tsai (“Trophy Wife,” “Dr. Ken”), Tensing Norgay Trainor, the grandson of Tensing Norgay, the first man to reach the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, and Tsai Chin will be joining “Agents of Shield’s” Chloe Bennet in its upcoming feature “Abominable.”
The announcements came as Pearl detailed its upcoming slate of animated feature productions, backstory and ambitions, straight from the mouths of animation legends Jill Culton and Glen Keane.
“The Monkey King” is penned by animated-animal feature experts Ron Friedman and Steve Bencich, whose past credits include “Brother Bear” and “Chicken Little.” The film is an effort to bring to the world, a character described by Pearl as “one of China’s most mythical, mystical and mischievous superheroes.”
Chow’s “involvement in this very special project, which is beloved throughout Asia, is a true coup,” said Peilin Chou, chief creative officer for Pearl Studio. She added: “We know that he will bring all the comedy and scope that makes this adventure legend so special and translate ‘The Monkey King’ into an enchanting and exciting global animated event.”
The presentation kicked off with Pearl’s chief creative officer Peilin Chou introducing the audience to the Chinese studio and outlining their ambitious goal.
Pearl started out as DreamWorks Oriental, and co-produced “Kung Fu Panda 3,” a film that on its release became the highest-grossing animated film of all time in China.
A good deal of the presentation was dedicated to framing China’s place in the global animation marketplace today. While Pearl is, at its core, a Chinese company, there is no mandate to create specifically Chinese content,
“None of our films are for China only. Our films are English-first. We look for themes which are universal and can travel around the world,” said Chou.
Another key point of order in Peilin’s talk was the importance of diversity at Pearl Studio. In its Shanghai headquarters alone there are staff from over 25 countries. And, its current development slate features female protagonists in more than half of its films.
Once the overview had finished, Chou passed the mic to Jill Culton, director of Chinese animated road movie “Abominable,” a co-production with DreamWorks Animation, who presented first-look animatics and excerpts, all set to pop music. Culton has a sterling C.V. in animation, having worked on such films as “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” and “Monsters Inc.”
The plot has the 16-year-old female protagonist rescuing a kidnapped Yeti and tracking across China to get him back to his home on Everest.
“We have seen hundreds of road-trips across America,” Culton pointed out, “but no one has taken us on a tour of all the beautiful places in China.”
“This film is a very personal, character-driven tale, set in an epic landscape that lends itself beautifully to animation.” said DreamWorks Feature Animation Group president Chris deFaria in a statement. “Ultimately, this is a film about finding your way home, and the unbreakable bond that forms between these characters during a life changing adventure. These additional voice actors bring considerable emotion and comedy to this story.”
“Abominable” is scheduled for worldwide release through Universal Pictures Sept 27 2019.
Glen Keane, an Academy Award winner for “Dear Basketball,” received the presentation’s largest ovation before talked through his upcoming film, “Over the Moon,” inspired by one of China’s most beloved myths. Keane spent decades at Disney, and was a key contributor to one of that company’s golden ages having worked on such seminal films as “The Fox and the Hound,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas” and many, many more.
After explaining his animation process, sharing a slideshow of his trip to China with Pearl, and a few early pieces of art that will influence the film, he treated the at-capacity room to a real-time sketching of the film’s protagonist, projected onto the theater’s screen.
“Over the Moon” will be distributed theatrically in Greater China, and by Netflix worldwide.