Five animated Chinese children’s classics
I still remember how hard I worked to finish my homework before 6.30pm “cartoon time.”Come 6.15, worried that some sports game would interfere, I would physically wrap myself around the TV monitor to hint to my father that cartoon time was nigh. As the clock ticked towards 6.30, I felt impatience like I never have since. And when the hands finally, finally pointed to 6.30, the happiest hour of my day began.
Despite the advancements in animation technology, I still believe the golden era of Chinese cartoons has passed. I’d like to share some of my old favorites with a new generation of viewers. Below are my choices for the top five movies. All the films are in Chinese, of course, and only one (Nezha Conquers the Dragon King) seems to be available with English subtitles. Nevertheless, with a basic understanding of the plot and main characters, I think even non-Chinese speakers will get a kick out of these classic films.
Baby Tadpoles Search for Their Mother
(Xiao Kedou Zhao Mama, 小蝌蚪找妈妈)
(Ideal for kids under 7)
Based on a painting by master painter Qi Banshi, and with a soundtrack of traditional Chinese pipa and guzheng music, this sweet film tells the tale of a group of cute baby tadpoles searching for their mother in a beautiful and peaceful lotus pool. The confused creatures mistake a carp, crabs, turtles and catfish for their mom; their persistence impresses these animals, who try to help them with their search. Children can easily see the tadpoles growing bigger and bigger with every scene. Drawn on rice paper, this 1961 classic won lots of international animation awards in countries such as France, Switzerland and Yugoslavia.
Cao Chong Weighs the Elephant
(Cao Chong Cheng Xiang, 曹冲称象) and The Magic Pen (Shenbi Ma Liang, 神笔马良)
(Ideal for kids ages 8-12)
If you have ever been partial to puppetry, you should not miss these classic Chinese puppet animations. Cao Chong Weighs the Elephant, adapted from the ancient text The Record of the Three Kingdoms, is the story of a smart 7-year-old who shocks his scornful neighbors by proving that he can weigh an elephant using a boat and water displacement (remember the Archimedes principal?). In The Magic Pen, Ma Liang is a poor boy who loves to draw. He practices everywhere, using anything he can find, until his drawings become so good that people can’t distinguish them from real objects. Ma Liang’s outstanding skills and strong spirit attract the attention of some celestial beings, who grant him the gift of a magic pen with the ability to turn drawings into real things. To the agitation of some greedy rich people, who get him tied up in a lawsuit, this pen only works for Ma Liang. Despite many pressures, in the end, Ma Liang keeps his promise to the celestial beings and only uses his magic pen to draw for the poor.
Uproar in Heaven
(Da Nao Tiangong, 大闹天宫)
(Ideal for kids ages 10 and up)
Animated by the Shanghai Animation Studio, this internationally acclaimed film has impressed several different generations with its skillful hand-drawn action. It’s the fabulous story of one of the Monkey King’s early adventures – an epic, celestial battle with the evil Jade Emperor. Using his wits and magic skills, the courageous, rebellious Monkey King defeats a plethora of heavenly soldiers, fairies and supernatural beings previously thought to be all-powerful and untouchable. The soundtrack of Beijing opera drums helps add to the drama and highlight the Monkey King’s remarkable kung fu.
Nezha Conquers the Dragon King
(Nezha Nao Hai, 哪吒闹海)
(Ideal for kids ages 10 and up)
A heroic young boy who wields a red tasseled spear, dresses in lotus flowers and runs as fast as the wind – this is Nezha, conqueror of the evil, child-eating Dragon King. After Nezha’s miraculous birth (he springs out of a ball of flesh shaped like a lotus), he’s taken under the wing of a supernatural being named Taiyi Zhenren who gives him some magic weapons and trains him in kung fu. After 7-year-old Nezha kills the Dragon King’s son and one of his soldiers to prevent them from stealing children, the Dragon King assembles an army and threatens to demolish the entire city unless Nezha commits suicide. Fearing for the other residents’ lives, the noble Nezha complies. Fortunately, he’s brought back to life by his mentor Taiyi Zhenren, and returns to defeat the Dragon King. This dramatic tale is easy to follow thanks to impressively translated English subtitles.
Where to Buy:
Uproar in Heaven and Nezha Conquers the Dragon King can be picked up at many DVD shops and shopping centers. You can also order any of the movies above and have them delivered to your door using Joyo (Chinese only).