Not even an animated movie about a cuddly yeti could avoid becoming a flashpoint in an international dispute involving China.
Vietnam has reportedly pulled the DreamWorks Animation cartoon “Abominable” from theaters because of the movie’s depiction of a map of China that includes the nation’s “nine-dash line,” which unilaterally lays claim to a vast expanse of the South China Sea.
China has used its assertion of territorial rights in the region to move into areas claimed by other countries, including Vietnam. The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the area, which is rich in natural resources, including fish, oil and gas.
Tensions between China and Vietnam were inflamed in July, when the larger communist nation sent a ship into Vietnamese-controlled waters for an energy survey.
Reuters, quoting state media, reported late Sunday that the film was removed from theaters in Vietnam after images of the offending map were widely shared on social media. The movie, co-produced by Comcast Corp.'s DreamWorks Animation and Shanghai-based Pearl Studio, was first screened there Oct. 4.
“We will revoke [the film’s license],” Ta Quang Dong, deputy minister of culture, sports and tourism, said in the Thanh Nien newspaper, according to Reuters.
Pearl Studio, which is releasing the movie in China, declined to comment on Vietnam’s yanking of the film. Universal Pictures, which distributed the movie in countries other than China, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The filmmakers went out of their way to make the film appeal to Chinese audiences, relying on Pearl Studio, formerly known as Oriental DreamWorks, to help make its portrayal of a modern Chinese family seem more authentic. But the $75-million picture has struggled to break out in China so far, collecting an estimated $14 million in the country since its Oct. 1 release there, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway.
“Abominable” has grossed $109.7 million worldwide, including about $48 million in the U.S. and Canada.
The movie, about a young Chinese girl who must take a yeti named Everest back to his home in the Himalayas, is just the latest example of how seemingly innocent entertainment can become embroiled in international controversies when trying to take advantage of China’s enormous market.
The National Basketball Assn. struggled to respond to China’s demands that the league apologize for a since-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting protesters in Hong Kong. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN has faced criticism for its coverage, or lack thereof, of the dispute.
“South Park,” from Viacom Inc.-owned Comedy Central, was banned from China after a recent episode satirized Chinese human rights violations and censorship. The episode, fittingly titled “Band in China,” also skewered Hollywood’s attempts to cater to Chinese officials in order to tap the market, which is expected to eventually surpass the U.S. and Canada as the world’s largest box office. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued a biting, fake apology: “Like the NBA, we welcome Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts.”
A trailer for the upcoming Paramount Pictures sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” received attention because of an apparent alteration to Tom Cruise’s bomber jacket in the film. The new jacket omits the Japanese and Taiwanese flags that appeared on the clothing item from the 1986 original film. The change, first publicized on Twitter by an international journalist, was presumed to be the result of Chinese influence. Chinese tech giant Tencent is a co-financier of the film. Paramount has declined to comment on the matter.