by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- "Oink! Oink!" is how a two-foot-tall animated character of the porcine persuasion introduced Chinese New Year of the Pig to American moviegoers this week.
Ringing in the traditional Lunar New Year was Peppa the Pig, a popular British cartoon character that has taken China by storm and has breached U.S. shores as well.
The character's first feature film, "Peppa the Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year," co-produced by Canadian company Entertainment One and China's Alibaba Pictures, opened in theaters around the globe on Tuesday, the first day of the Chinese New Year, to well-filled theaters.
The live action-animation film will be distributed by U.S. company STX Entertainment in select theaters in 32 cities across the United States.
"We've seen many Chinese families and some American families too," said one cinema ticket collector of an AMC theater in Monterey Park, one of the majority Asian American cities in Los Angeles County.
"We love Peppa!" chorused a swarm of 4-year old girls, whose slightly beleaguered parents had brought them to Monterey Park's AMC Atlantic Cinema for the film's premier in the United States.
The animated Peppa vignettes intercut with the live action story - where Peppa, her family and friends visit the fair and celebrate Chinese New Year - are amusing and clear favorites with the young moviegoers, causing eruptions of laughter whenever Peppa or George snorted like ... well, pigs.
"Peppa and George love to help their Mom and always do their homework. But I don't!" confessed one pint-sized Chinese-American boy with a mischievous giggle.
BOND OF FAMILY
Underneath the veneer of lightheartedness, the movie also shares valuable life lessons about the powerful bond of family, friendship, acceptance, values and the importance of maintaining key traditions that are the backbone of any culture. The film captures the feel of a Chinese family reunited for the holidays and is saved from being over-saccharine by the subtle machinations of two gently-sparring grandmothers, each vying for center stage in the family's affections.
"That's the thing about families," said Mr. Tong, in his 30s, who came to watch the film with his wife and 3-year old daughter, Sarah, who was proudly sporting a Peppa Pig backpack. "You may not always get along, but you'll always be family."
"Chinese New Year's traditions are different and fascinating," one American father, Robert from Pasadena, told Xinhua. "But the feelings are the same," added his wife, Susan. "It's all about family, like our own holidays."
TRADITIONS CARRIED FORWARD
What's also worth mentioning is the sensationally successful film trailer released online in China in mid-January, which went viral virtually overnight, with over one billion views.
The trailer, tugging on our heartstrings, depicts a proud Chinese grandfather in a remote rural village who are determined not to disappoint his only grandson and get him his favorite gift: a "Pei Qi" (Peppa Pig).
But in a telling demonstration of the disconnect between the tech-savvy generation of young, urban millennials and the hardback dictionary-using rural generation that preceded them, the elderly sheep farmer must first struggle to discover: what in the world is "Pei Qi"?
We live through his touching search and missteps until he finally stumbled upon Peppa Pig! What he does next will warm even the hardest heart.
"Besides drawing attention to the movie, what I wanted to do through this trailer was to share the same values that are highlighted in the movie - family, reunion, harmony and love," Zhang Dapeng, the film and trailer's director, told the press.
Zhang added that the characters he cast in the trailer even wore their own clothes, and appeared in their own homes to ensure the spot was true to life.
U.S. media NPR quoted Manya Koetse, an expert on China, as saying: "What is brilliant about this video is that it changes Peppa into a certain feeling, of bringing people together."
NPR also reported that China's younger social media users admitted the trailer made them feel "homesick and want to treat their grandparents better."
"It's an honor for us to team up with STX to release the film in the United States, attracting American moviegoers and overseas Chinese audience to celebrate the Spring Festival in theaters," Zhang Wei, president of Alibaba Pictures, said in a recent news briefing in Los Angeles.
"We hope to carry forward some traditions of Chinese culture through this film," she added.