The tale of a young folk deity who flies around on wheels of fire has defied audience and industry expectations about the commercial potential of animation in China to become the country’s second-highest-grossing film of all time. “Nezha” has earned $674 million (RMB 4.81 billion) since its July 26 release, putting it behind only 2017’s nationalist actioner “Wolf Warrior II” at the box office and making it the most successful animated title ever in the Middle Kingdom, far beyond the previous record-holder, Disney’s “Zootopia,” which reaped $236 million.
It’s astonishing success has raised hopes for China’s growing but still immature animation sector. While animated titles consistently account for 10% to 15% of the box office in the U.S. and about 40% in Japan, the figure is estimated at only about 6% to 10% in China. “Nezha” has also set a welcome new standard for quality in local animation in a land where the genre is still primarily seen as a diversion for children rather than entertainment for more grown-up viewers.