Quake survivor "Panda" bounds into China's theaters

Thu May 7, 2009 11:30pm EDT
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By Jonathan Landreth

BEIJING (Hollywood Reporter) - Hoping a cuddly black-and-white national treasure will again produce Chinese box-office gold, Walt Disney Studios is releasing "Trail of the Panda" here Friday (May 8).

The release precedes by days the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake that uprooted the endangered species' home. It follows by almost a year the record-breaking box-office run of DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda," which earned more than $14.7 million in China last summer.

Disney's second Chinese-language film, "Trail" unspools on 900 of the country's roughly 4,000 screens via Huaxia Film Distribution.

The story of an orphaned boy who saves a twin panda cub separated from its mother, "Trail" was nearly ruined last spring. As shooting wound down in the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve in southwest China's Sichuan province, an 8.0 quake struck May 12, killing more than 70,000 people in the area.

Twenty-eight members of the film's crew abandoned film and equipment and hiked through the mountains for three days before they were rescued by the Chinese military.

The six pandas used to play the film's star, Pang Pang ("Chubby" in Chinese) survived, but the panda that portrayed the mother of the twin cubs was killed.

"We were toward the tail end of the shoot, with maybe five days to go, when the earth began to shake and just didn't stop," said Jennifer Liu, CEO of Beijing-based Ying Dong Media, which made the film for $5 million. A former Disney employee, Liu co-wrote and produced the film.

Inspired by a true story, the Yu Zhong-directed film was co-written and produced by Jean Chaolpin, creator of "Inspector Gadget."   Continued...