“The Lion King” is on track to become one of the most successful Disney live-action titles in China, according to local projections. In its Chinese debut Friday, a week ahead of its U.S. premiere, the film brought in $13.4 million (RMB92.6 million) by early evening, including midnight screenings. That already exceeds “Toy Story 4’s” three-day debut total of $13.2 million, with the weekend and family crowds yet to come.
While strong, the first-day figures did not hit the heights that might have been expected, given the film’s almost complete lack of competition this weekend in China. With the lineup of local movies decimated by Chinese censors, “The Lion King’s” only real challenger is holdover Hong Kong title “The White Storm 2: Drug Lords.” The other new titles opening this weekend are two Japanese animated films and local drama “The Rookies.” The July 5 release of Huayi Brothers’ anticipated blockbuster, the patriotic war epic “The Eight Hundred,” was canceled by government censors who apparently didn’t care for its politics.
Early projections from China’s Maoyan platform estimated a total haul of $171 million (RMB1.18 billion) over the course of “The Lion King’s” monthlong theatrical run. That would make it the most successful live-action reboot ever in China, more than tripling the earnings of “Aladdin,” which made $53.3 million in China in May, and eight times those of “Dumbo,” which brought in a mere $21.9 million in March. Before this year, “Cinderella” earned $71.6 million in 2015, “The Jungle Book” $150 million in 2016, and “Beauty and the Beast” $89.2 million in 2017.
U.S. critics have by and large given the Jon Favreau-helmed film mediocre reviews, but Chinese viewers seem ready to embrace it, giving it an 8.9 out of 10 on both the Taopiaopiao and Maoyan online ticketing platforms.
The film premiered at the Shanghai Disneyland theme park Wednesday night, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang and his newlywed wife, fellow pianist Gina Alice Redlinger, performing a rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” as a four-handed duet.
Spontaneous applause and cheers at the screening indicated that the film “will surely strike a response chord in the hearts of moviegoers based on the nostalgia factor,” said china.org.cn, a news site run by the Chinese government.
The live-action remake may tap into a groundswell of support in China, where those born in the 1980s and ’90s mostly are familiar with the film and the soundtracks and toys that subsequently followed.
The original film first came out in China in 1995, a year after it hit U.S theaters. With Chinese animation mostly confined to the small screen, it was the country’s first widely released animated film and its first imported animated film. It brought in just RMB41 million – around $6 million at today’s conversion rates – at a time when China had yet to construct the vast majority its current tally of more than 60,000 screens.
“It is epic in terms of production and music, and surely is a game changer for the industry,” china.org.cn said.