Though Japanese animation tends to take up the spotlight, China has produced some wonderful and original must-see films over the years.
Chinese animation has its roots in the early 1900s, mostly getting its start in advertising commercials. Over the years, Chinese animation would embrace different styles, from 2D animation meant to evoke American cartoons or even Japanese anime to stop-motion pieces bringing life to puppets, clay figures, and even paper cut-outs. Within time, China would even showcase computer-generated animation.
Princess Iron Fan
The first animated Chinese film is a loose adaptation of Sun Wukong and Princess Iron Fan’s meeting during the famous epic, Journey to the West. Animated with a strong influence from Disney and Fleischer cartoons, the story mostly focuses on the Monkey King’s duel with the princess, in order to obtain her magic fan.
This Chinese animated film would prove to have a strong influence on Japanese anime overseas, especially being known to have been a source of inspiration on Osamu Tezuka.
Afanti is the Uyghur version of the folk hero Nasreddin, although he’s said to be from Xinjiang instead of Anatolia, and his stories are known throughout China. He’s a funny trickster hero who uses his wisdom to help the poor and ensure bad people get their comeuppance.
Shanghai Animation Film Studio produced a series of stop-motion films dedicated to the character, becoming one of the most popular animations in China. Afanti would later get a CGI film in 2018.
The Cowboy’s Flute
This simple film revolves around a herd boy with a flute and his water buffalo. During a dream sequence, he has to find his faithful friend and uses the power of music to do so.
Much of what makes this film notable is its technical background. Animated without any dialogue, the piece is made to look like a Chinese watercolor painting.
The Girl With Long Hair
In this stop-motion film, a kind-hearted young girl tries to save her village from a drought that has driven her people into great poverty. She finds spring water, only to learn that a mountain demon is blocking it from the people and threatens her from telling anyone about it. Eventually, the burden of knowledge weighs so heavily on the girl her long black hair turns white causing her to reveal the spring to the village.
The demon wants revenge against the girl. Luckily, the spirit of a tree the girl rescued with the water comes to her rescue, helping her defeat the demon and even transforms her white hair into a waterfall.
Big Fish & Begonia
Chun is a young girl who lives in a magic world with spirit beings and, before her sixteenth birthday, she is allowed to visit the human world in the form of a red dolphin. While there, she accidentally causes the death of a human boy. Initially aided by her childhood friend, the white-haired Qui, the film explores the concept of sacrifice as Chun struggles to get her wish.
Interestingly, the feature-length film has its origins in an animated web-short, which features characters who appear to have been the basis for Chun and Qui.
Loosely based on a Chinese folktale, this computer-animated film focuses on Blanc, a white snake demon who lost her memory as she falls in love with a snake hunter, Xuan. While trying to uncover her memories, they encounter her sister, Verta, who is tasked with returning her to the snake people on pain of death. Ultimately, Blanca agrees to return to her people, but the lovers will have to fight for a happy ending against the gorgon-like Master.
Anime fans might recognize the original story: the first-ever feature-length anime film in color was a Japanese adaptation of this story, The Legend of the White Serpent, released in 1958.