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Closing the Disney/Pixar Gap

China's animation industry is changing, with box office receipts surging and studios seeking to become Chinese Disneys and Pixars. But critics say a gap remains with Western studios, especially in storytelling techniques, Amy He reports from New York.

When the Chinese animated film Big Fish and Begonia was released on July 8, it was the culmination of 12 years of work and some critics say it paid off. The film brought in $34 million in its opening weekend, beating even animated film Zootopia's opening weekend release in China of $23.6 million.

Big Fish and Begonia is a fantastical animation based on Chinese mythology, and was widely anticipated by a dedicated following that helped fund the movie when its filmmakers turned to crowdfunding for the project, raising $260,000 in 2013. The funding success piqued the interest of Enlight Media, which went on to provide complete funding for the rest of the film.

Film and animation industry experts say China is in the midst of an animation turnaround, after having played catch up for decades.

Despite not having famous studios like Disney and DreamWorks in the West, or Studio Ghibli in Japan, there are signs that animation in China is booming.

In the last three years, revenue for animated movies at China's box office nearly quadrupled, in part due to the success of American films but also because Chinese films are breaking records.

Domestic animated films generated about $300 million in box office revenue in 2015, a 78.6 percent increase over the prior year, according to statistics from the China International Cartoon and Animation Festival, which was held in Hangzhou in late April.

Of 57 animated films screened in China last year, 43 were domestic productions. Total ticket sales reached $657 million, up 45 percent year-on-year.

Monkey King: Hero is Back was the top-grossing animation in 2015, making $142 million. As of July, Disney's Zootopia is the second-largest film in China, having made $236 million.