(THR) As China’s booming Lunar New Year box-office period winds down, Beijing’s film regulators are beginning to let Hollywood titles back into the marketplace.
Warner Brothers’ live-action/animation hybrid Tom and Jerry has secured a release on Feb. 26, officially the final day of the Chinese New Year season. The film will be the first new U.S. studio title to launch in China in 2021. Just one week later, on March 5, Disney’s feature animation Raya and the Last Dragon will get a theatrical rollout.
China’s regulators block foreign films from releasing throughout the lucrative Lunar New Year stretch as a matter of protectionist trade practice. As much as 10 percent or more of the country’s annual ticket sales revenue is generated over the holiday — two Chinese films, Detective Chinatown 3 and Hi, Mom, already have surpassed $600 million in earnings each — while the period immediately afterward tends to be an especially fallow stretch for earnings, since much of the country’s moviegoing public will recently have gorged on big-screen content.
Nevertheless, China could be the biggest box-office territory for Tom and Jerry and Raya and the Last Dragon. In North America, Tom and Jerry will launch the same day on both HBO Max and in U.S. movie theaters that currently are open. Raya and the Last Dragon will also be released in theaters and simultaneously Disney Plus Premier Access, Disney+’s one-time payment option to see new movies for $29.99, the same service the company used for Mulan.
Like Netflix, neither WarnerMedia nor Disney’s flagship direct-to-consumer streaming platforms are active in China, because of Beijing’s de facto ban on foreign video services.
Reminiscent of the groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Tom and Jerry, directed by Tim Story, features both human and vintage cartoon characters. Longtime character voice actor Frank Welker again pulls double-duty as the beloved cat and mouse cartoon pair, with a supporting (human) cast that includes Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Ken Jeong, Rob Delaney and Pallavi Sharda. The film sees Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse getting kicked out of their home and relocating to a fancy New York hotel, where a scrappy employee named Kayla (Moretz) will lose her job if she can’t evict Jerry before a high-class wedding at the hotel. Her solution? Hiring piano-playing Tom to get rid of the pesky intruder.
A CG fantasy inspired by the disparate cultures of Southeast Asia, Raya and the Last Dragon follows a fearless young girl, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, and the last dragon, Sisu, voiced by Awkwafina. It’s directed by Don Hall (Oscar winner for Big Hero 6) and Carlos Lopez Estrada, from a screenplay by Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians). The Mandarin-language version of the film will feature popular 33-year-old Chinese actress Zhao Liying (The Monkey King 3, Duckweed) as the voice of Raya.
Industry watchers will be interested to see whether there is any pent-up audience demand for Hollywood fare after the long stretch of local, Chinese-language-only releases in the country. The studios also will be looking for signs that rampant piracy might be hurting the theatrical earnings of the two films, given that they are opening simultaneously in high-resolution streaming form in other markets, which will make high-quality pirate copies widely available in China also instantaneously.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter by Patrick Brzeski