TV & Movies

‘Toy Story 4’ Defeated at the Chinese Box Office By the Theatrical Debut of ‘Spirited Away’

It’s very rare for a film, animated or otherwise, to hold a candle to Pixar at the box office. But when you throw in a classic work by Hayao Miyazaki, it’s a different kind of contest. Pixar latest film, Toy Story 4, was a critically acclaimed guaranteed mega-hit that was sure to sweep the box office worldwide — except in one country. China, usually one of the biggest markets for Disney and Pixar releases, instead awarded the No. 1 spot to Spirited Away, Miyazaki’s 18-year-old film which just made its theatrical debut in the country this weekend.

Not even Forky’s delightful existential crisis could defeat the masterpiece of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki at the Chinese box office, where Studio Ghibli’s films enjoy widespread popularity despite their scant theatrical releases. Spirited Away received its first theatrical release in China, nearly two decades after it debuted everywhere else in 2001 to worldwide acclaim, a Best Animated Oscar win, and the record for highest grossing anime film ever until Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name in 2017. But Spirited Away could get a chance to reclaim that title with its massive $28 million haul for its opening weekend in China. Variety reports that Spirited Away blew Toy Story 4 away at China’s weekend box office, making more than double Toy Story 4’s $13.2 million haul. And it stands to make even more due to Ghibli’s popularity with Chinese audiences.

The film even received gorgeous new posters for its Chinese theatrical debut by artist Huang Hai, one of which can be seen below.

The only other Studio Ghibli film to receive a theatrical release in China was Miyazaki’s 1988 fantasy adventure film My Neighbor Totoro, which debuted in theaters last December. Spirited Away has already managed to outgross Totoro’s entire $26 million run, and will likely go on to make even more because of the following Ghibli has accumulated in China through pirated versions and streams. The film’s success in the face of Pixar can also be attributed to Chinese exhibitors giving Spirited Away more screens to run than Toy Story 4; Miyazaki’s film accounted for 30% of all screenings in China this weekend, while Toy Story 4 accounted for 18%. Variety also muses that the trade war tensions between China and the White House may be leading to a hostility toward Hollywood films.

But still, it’s incredibly gratifying to see a hand-drawn masterpiece like Spirited Away triumphing over a CG-animated film, even one as good as Toy Story 4. It goes to show that the lyrical beauty of hand-drawn animation is not dead yet and not even Pixar’s massively successful Toy Story 4 could likely stop the train that is Spirited Away.

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