How Pearl Studio Created a Truly Global Film with 'Abominable'

By Bryan Grogan, October 6, 2019

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The largest opening for an animated film in the US this year so far, tipped by the Hollywood Reporter to be in contention for the Oscars and widely lauded as a truly global film with unique appeal for various markets. Pearl Studio’s first official title, co-produced alongside DreamWorks Animation, Abominable has captured the imagination of film buffs and audiences alike, as the title aims to find success in both the US and the China, no easy feat. 

Alas, Abominable has had a slow start in China thus far, as a result of opening alongside a trio of patriotic films; My People, My Country, The Captain and The Climbers. With a budget of USD75 million, Abominable has taken in over USD36 million since opening at the end of September and beginning of October according to IMDb. The slow start in China is largely down to timing, but one good weekend in China could push it over the line in recouping that money. 

That’s the business side of the film, but what about the content? As Business Insider recently revealed, the film underwent major changes over the course of a year in order to appeal to the Chinese market.  

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Image via DreamWorks Animation/IMDb

Talking to That’s about the differences between the Chinese and Western versions of the film, Justinian Huang, Head of Development at Pearl Studio, is effusive as he speaks of the need to ensure that the dialogue was changed, the jokes were changed and even the music. 

“I would say a lot of the jokes have been localized, I’d say that’s number one, that’s very important,” Huang tells us. “I think that almost every joke has been truly localized, it’s essentially not even the same joke. We took that area where we knew it was a xiaodian, a funny moment, and we created new jokes.”

It becomes clear, when talking to Justinian, that ensuring the film was ready for the Chinese market was a labor of love that took many hours for a lot of people. He speaks passionately about the film’s plot, about the Chinese actors who were drafted in for vocal duties and about the film’s main character, Everest the Yeti. 

“The Yeti belongs to everybody. It belongs to every snowy peak you can imagine,” Huang says about the decision to use this mythical creature as a focal point in the film. “I think it’s really cool that that creature is the star of our movie. Also, there’s no legend that says the Yeti is magical and controls nature, that is something that we came up with and I have to tell you, it creates some setpieces that will dazzle you, absolutely.”

Those set-pieces not only dazzled us, but have been dazzling audiences. Upon seeing the Chinese version of the film at a local Shanghai theater, we observed the audience, kids and adults alike, falling around in their seats in fits of laughter at one point in the movie when an attempt by Everest to provide his friends with food in the form of magically produced blueberries goes awry. 

“People have been asking me who the audience is for this movie and I say, anyone with parents. If you have parents, then this movie is for you, very much so,” Huang tell us. 

In that sense it is a family film, with enough wonder, fun and substance to appeal to parents, kids and anyone in between. While part of that appeal may be down to the emotional plotline, which takes in topics such as living in a one-parent household, building a bond with a nagging grandmother and placing trust in the most unlikely of creatures, a Yeti, other factors play into this appeal. 

For one, the scenery that we are exposed to in Abominable is fascinating. There‘s no Great Wall and no Terracotta Warriors. Instead, the creators wanted to shine a light on lesser-known parts of China, like Huangshan, the Leshan Buddha and Qiandao Lake. 

“Of course we want to take you into a Chinese metropolis, because they are just so beautiful to animate,” Huang says, “We quickly take you out of that, and we make sure to take you on a trip to places that the average Westerner does not know, and that the Chinese people that are watching will celebrate.”

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Image via DreamWorks Animation/IMDb

This seemingly small detail shows the potential that animation has for bringing Chinese culture to the world. As seen earlier this year with the local success of Nezha, Chinese animation is evolving and staking a claim on the global stage. Speaking about the vast potential that animation has for films released on the global market, Pearl Studio’s Chief Creative Officer Peilin Chou tells us, “I think with animation there is an openness about exploring different cultures and lands that audiences aren’t accustomed to. It’s a great medium for expanding people’s perspectives and worldviews. We try to really take advantage of that in the stories we tell.”

As such, Pearl Studio has positioned itself as a company with an inside look at the world’s two largest movie markets, with offices in New York City and Shanghai. With its first film as an independent entity under its belt, Pearl Studio is set to continue making films that can impact audiences all over the globe, with their next feature, animated film Over the Moon, currently slated for a 2020 release in Chinese theaters and on Netflix, while another film, the brainchild of Huang, Tiger Empress, is currently in development. Both of those films are set to have a distinctly Asian plot. 

“Definitely the days are gone when you can put a Chinese person into a movie and say that makes it global. I think what the West often does, I hope it doesn’t anymore, is that they underestimate just how perceptive and smart and forward thinking the Chinese audience is,” Huang says, continuing, “I don’t think that what we’ve done with Abominable and the Chinese version would classify as respect for the audience, I would just say it’s something that everyone should have been doing from the beginning, not just with China, but with any country.”

READ MORE: 13 Movies Hitting Chinese Theaters in October 2019

[Cover image via DreamWorks Animation/IMDb]

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