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Feature Film

Don’t Count Out Oriental Dreamworks; Chinese Studio Announces 6 Feature Film Projects

Earlier reports of the death of Oriental Dreamworks (ODW) may have been premature.

ODW, a venture backed by Dreamworks Animation and a consortium of private and state-owned Chinese companies like CMC Capital Partners, Shanghai Media Group, and Shanghai Alliance Investment Limited, announced last week an ambitious slate of feature films in development, in addition to the previously-announced Everest, which is in production and slated for release by Universal in 2019.

The key exec heading up the creative side of the studio is Peilin Chou, who has been promoted from ODW’s head of creative to chief creative officer. Chou, who was formerly v-p of original series at Spike TV and director of development at Nickelodeon, in addition to stints at Disney Feature Animation, AZN Television, and Touchstone Pictures, will be based in Shanghai and New York City. She will oversee a slate of more than a dozen active projects.

The studio has also figured out a new way to position its slate, explaining that it will produce family-oriented films “for the global market, with hyper-appeal in China.”

“Animation is a universal language that everyone understands and enjoys whether you live in Shanghai or Queens,” Chou said in a statement. “Creating global animated films, infused with authentic Chinese elements, is a lifelong personal passion of mine. To be able to do that at ODW, with the strong support of [Li] Ruigang [chairman of ODW], the extraordinary partnership of Frank [Zhu, CEO of ODW], and the crazy talented filmmakers we have in our greater ODW family is truly a dream come true.”

The studio has identified five upcoming projects, presumably those which are furthest along in development or in which it has the most confidence will be produced. These projects are:

  • Over the Moon, a modern-day retelling of the classic Chinese myth about a mysterious moon goddess named Chang’e.  Written by Audrey Wells (A Dog’s Purpose, George of the Jungle, Shall We Dance, Under the Tuscan Sun).  Executive produced by Janet Yang, whose credits include such memorable titles as Joy Luck Club, The People vs. Larry Flynt).
  • Untitled Chinatown Project, a comedic, action-packed intergenerational adventure with supernatural elements. Conceived and executive produced by Emmy Award-winner Alan Yang (co-creator and executive producer of Master of None, writer/producer on Parks and Recreation).
  • The Monkey King, an epic adventure featuring China’s most legendary, mystical and mischievous superhero, breaking through for the first time to the global stage. Written by Ron Friedman & Steve Bencich, whose animated movies have grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide, and include Brother Bear and Chicken Little.
  • Illumikitty, an irreverent comedy about the ultimate cat-astrophe: a feline plot for world domination. Written by Jenny Bicks (Rio 2, Sex and the City).
  • Lucky is an animated buddy comedy which takes you behind the scenes of Chinese superstition and the battle between good luck and bad luck.  Lucky  is currently being written by Rita Hsiao (Mulan, Toy Story 2).

Recent industry reports suggest that the new owner of Dreamworks Animation, Comcast-NBCUniversal, doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the Chinese owners of ODW, and is looking to unload its 45% stake in ODW to another company.

  • JodyMorgan

    Seems like I’ve seen Rita Hsiao’s name attached to another recent animated movie…

    At any rate, that’s a promising slate of projects in development; I hope all goes well with them.

  • Cameron Ward

    A lot of these projects seem promising. I’m concerned about how much money is going to be put into them since a good looking animated film should at the very least be $75+ mil.

    • AmidAmidi

      It’s absolute nonsense to suggest that a “good looking” animation project needs to cost $75+ million. Great looking films can be – and often are – produced for a fraction of the cost.

      • Cameron Ward

        And most China-made CGI animation aren’t that good and look ugly as sin. Even Rock Dog with its $60 mil budget still had bad animation to it. It was better than most, but it still had its faults. If they can make it look good on a lesser budget, then I’m all for it, but if they can’t make the CGI look good or rendered well, then it’s going to get a lot of flack if it ends up in theaters.

        Hell, most foreign CGI animated films don’t look that good. I’m probably making them aim to high, but you can’t have lesser-quality animation in terms of CGI and not expect people to look at it and think “man, that doesn’t look good” Hell, Spark shouldn’t have been in theaters and Sony’s The Star shouldn’t be in theaters.

        • thefoxandking

          I feel like you’re assuming everything needs to look like a Pixar/Disney production though. You can easily achieve a fantastic looking film on a lower budget by simply approaching with a different art style. Just look at Captain Underpants.

          • Cameron Ward

            i’ll admit, I was being a bit harsh when I originally made the comment, but if you watch Chinese-produced animated films, they just go with CGI since it’s cheap, and it looks like PlayStation 1/early PC gaming CGI cutscene levels of terrible. Again, look at a majority of films you see from Lionsgate, they are mostly Chinese animated films that look like PlayStation 2 games.

            I agree, if they can make it look good on a lesser budget by going full blown creative with the art style or different types of animation, then I’m down for that. I have definitely seen Europe pull it off with stuff like The Painting (high recommend seeing it) or do something like The Prophet where it has a really nice CGI style and a lot of breath taking 2D and CGI animation.

            I just made a blunt comment due to how versed I am in seeing the animated films come out from China. Not everything is a Big Fish and Begonia…

            I think with the recent Disney article talking about how a group of Chinese Animation heads went to Disney’s studio to learn about how they make films will definitely help since China goes more for quantity over quality.

  • Josh Evans

    Given the Dreamworks propensity to axe projects, how many of these do you think are actually going to see the light of day?

  • Barrett

    Most of these ideas sound pretty interesting. If the writing and animation are up to Dreamworks usual par (or better) I’ll probably go see them all in theaters. Maybe ODW will bring a freshness to DW that the main studio has been struggling to find.

  • J

    So much of the work done at Oriental Dreamworks and the other subsidiary studios has had to be redone by crews in California, or fixed by shipping crews from Cali (for example to help Mikros get their movies out the door). Do they really have the staff to be able to complete six movies at feature level?