On Screen China: Despite Upstream Struggle, Pixar’s ‘Dory’ Could Haul It In

  • Pixar has a poor track record in China 
  • But CFI scores ‘Dory’ at 6/10 and sees $30M debut, $70M gross
  • ‘Cuteness’ factor could help Dory, Nemo, and Marlin land with young Chinese women

Finding Dory’s Chinese poster (courtesy Disney/Pixar)

Disney/Pixar’s long awaited sequel Finding Dory dives headfirst into Chinese theaters this weekend as the company’s fifth straight day-and-date release of 2016. How will the forgetful little fish fare against the mighty orcs of Legendary’s Warcraft, which now has grossed $180.2 million to date? CFI takes a look at Dory’s box office potential below.

Finding Dory (海底总动员2)
China Distribution: China Film Group Corporation (中国电影集团公司)
US Distribution: Walt Disney Studios

CFI Score – 6/10

For all the success that Disney has managed to find in China with titles from its Marvel Cinematic Universe (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War), Walt Disney Animation Studios (Big Hero 6, Zootopia), and live-action catalogue (Cinderella, The Jungle Book), the company has continually struggled to gain a foothold with Pixar branded films.

Pixar’s Poor Performance in China

Film (Year)Gross (RMB)Gross (USD)
Toy Story (1996)31.8M$3.8M
Finding Nemo (2003)35.5M$4.3M
Cars (2006)21.5M$2.7M
Ratatouille (2008)1.04M$142K
Up (2009)95.3M$13.9M
Toy Story 3 (2010)117.6M$17.7M
Cars 2 (2011)78.5M$12.2M
Brave (2012)28.5M$4.5M
Monsters University (2013)209.7M$33.9M
Inside Out (2015)97.2M$16.1M


Rob Cain, a long time Chinese film industry watcher and current Forbes contributor gave this analysis of why last year’s Inside Out performed so poorly with Chinese audiences:

Whereas the The New York Times enthused about Inside Out by exclaiming “The film solves a thorny philosophical problem with the characteristically Pixaresque tools of whimsy, sincerity and ingenious literal-mindedness,” for China these elements are problematic for the audience. Judging by the list of films that have excelled there, it would appear that Chinese moviegoers prefer their animation stories to be more simple, straightforward, and traditional.

But with the recent success of Zootopia — a movie that contains complex adult themes such as inclusion and institutional racism under the guise of a simple, children-friendly story — are we beginning to see a shift in Chinese moviegoers’ tastes for animated fare?

The easy answer here is, not quite yet. Zootopia — as seen on Chinese social media — benefited primarily from its straightforward story and irresistibly adorable main characters; never underestimate the “cuteness” factor in bringing out the post 90s female demographic in China. The deeper, nuanced critiques on social issues, however, were lost on less mature audiences in third and fourth tier cities.

But this is precisely why we think Finding Dory will likely surpass Monsters University to become Pixar’s highest grossing film to date in China.

Nemo is arguably one of Pixar’s most kid-friendly franchises and already has a solid foundation of brand awareness in the Middle Kingdom. Nemo, Marlin, and Dory are also irresistibly adorable, and initial reaction out of North America points to another uncomplicated underwater adventure that audiences of all ages can enjoy.

Put all this together and Dory has a slight edge over the flailing Warcraft this weekend which has completely exhausted its fervent fan base after the Dragon Boat Festival. CFI believes Dory can land around $30 million in her debut on the way to a solid $70 million total.