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Disney & China Film Group to Serve Up Animated Enchanted Vegetable

The Walt Disney Co. China announced it will release a Chinese-language movie, THE MAGIC GOURD, its first co-production with the state-run China Film Group, this summer, reports ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Based on a novel written by the late Chinese children's writer Zhang Tianyi, the film, a mix of live-action and animation, is about a boy who discovers a gourd that, much like a genie, grants him wishes. The story has already been adapted into a TV show by state-run CCTV.

This marks a departure from Disney's established strategy of promoting its homegrown stories and characters, such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

Hong Kong special-effects studio Centro Digital Pictures, which worked on KILL BILL, produced the movie, AP reports.

"We respect and appreciate the deep-rooted rich Chinese local culture," Stanley Cheung, md of Disney China, said in a statement the news service carried.

The AP story points out that Disney has been flooding the Chinese market with its content, opening more than 4,200 "Disney Corner" merchandise outlets in stores around China. A TV show launched in 1994 that promotes Disney cartoons is seen on more than 40 channels. Disney also publishes cartoon books, and the stage productions "Winnie the Pooh," "The Lion King" and "Disney on Ice" have all been performed in China.

Disney movies EIGHT BELOW and CARS were also shown in Chinese theaters last year.

The company has also partnered with Shanda Interactive Ent. to develop an online game in China based on Disney characters.

Hong Kong Disneyland opened in September 2005, but the park fell short of its first-year attendance target of 5.6 million.

The Chinese government carefully controls media markets and products, and has banned foreign cartoons from primetime television.

Disney Channel Worldwide president Rich Ross told THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, in an interview last year, that Disney wants to launch a channel in China.

"In China, because it can't fully enter local media and entertainment due to legal restrictions, the spread of Disneyland culture is greatly limited," said Wang Ran, chief executive of China eCapital Corp., an investment bank specializing in the media industry.

Commenting on "THE MAGIC GOURD, Disney China's Cheung said, "In addition to bringing more Disney family entertainment content to China, we attach great importance on finding locally relevant and appealing content which complements our existing story values."

Being a Chinese co-production, Disney won't have to worry about having THE MAGIC GOURD included in China's annual quota of about 20 foreign films.

Nor should it have any problems clearing the Chinese censors, according to Wang. Not only aren't they political, he said, but, "for children's cartoon characters, they carry more common cultural denominators."