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Specialty distributor Shout! Studios has secured all North American rights to ecology-themed Chinese animated feature “The Legend Of Hei.” In a partnership with France’s Play Big, it will give the film a release in the U.S. and Canada.

“The Legend Of Hei” is a heart-warming fantasy about a cat spirit who goes on a journey of self-discovery after its forest home is destroyed by humans. It was directed by Zhang Ping (a.k.a MTJJ), who spent five years adapting the picture from a Flash animation series that he created in 2011 and published online.

The feature had a successful commercial release in China from September last year and earned $48 million at the box office. It subsequently enjoyed festival play at the Guangzhou and Beijing student festivals and at the 2020 edition of Annecy. It recently began a theatrical outing in Japan.

For the North American release, Shout! and Play Big have brought on board an English-language voice cast featuring Chinese-American talent: Emi Lo (“Bofuri,” “Valentine”), Aleks Le (“Funan,” “Ne Zha”), Howard Wang (“Dragon Ball Z,” “Marvel Avengers Academy”), Kaiji Tang (“Justice League,” “Grantz-O”), Caleb Yen (“Black Clover,” “Scott & Crowley”), and Suzie Yeung (“Kemono Friends”).

“There’s a winsome combination of heart, soul, fantasy, and altogether an extraordinary adventure for the family and animation enthusiasts,” said Melissa Boag, Shout!’s senior VP of family entertainment. She also compared “The Legend Of Hei” to the nature-themed films “Princess Mononoke” and “Miyori’s Forest.”

“It is our aspiration at PlayBig to bring the world high-quality Chinese anime. We are delighted to be partnering with Shout! Studios to introduce North American audiences to the best of Chinese animation,” said Frederic Puech, who was previously founder and president of Planet Nemo. He is now CEO of Lille- and Paris-based PlayBig which has an expanding role in distribution, development and production of anime and kids content for linear and non-linear platforms.

Chinese animation has had a huge couple of years, despite the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, “Ne Zha” earned $726 million worldwide, while “White Snake” scored $61 million. This year Jiang Ziya – Legend of Deification” has been the top scoring animated title in China, with a $240 million haul.