SEKs and The Lion King Mystery

In previous posts I’ve touched on North Korea’s animation industry, which, through a combination of cheap labour costs and skilled animators, has attracted a number of well known companies to outsource their movies (with or without their knowledge) to North Korea.

One of the main people behind this is animation legend called Nelson Shin. Shin, a South Korean, and his production company in Seoul has contributed the majority of the animation from such American classics as “The Simpsons” and the original “Transformers” cartoon.

Recognising the potential to build bridges between the North and South, it’s been suggested that Shin has outsourced a lot of work for major projects to North Korea. Controversial as it may seem, Disney’s “The Lion King” is rumoured to have been partly drawn in the DPRK.

One such clue to this fact comes in one of the film’s more controversial scenes when a cloud of dust kicks up from under Simba’s body seemingly spelling out the word “SEX”. A cheeky move from infantile animators… or perhaps it was actually our North Korean animators working for the company SEK sneaking in their companies name into the movie?

It’s often been denied by Disney (who would have had no part in a third party outsourcing move that would have been illegal under US law) that any of the movie was made there, but it is interesting to note.

A really important (purposeful) collaboration did take place, however, in 2005 when Nelson Shin produced the first ever animated film made and distributed in North and South Korea at the same time. “Empress Chung” agonisingly has never been released on DVD, but I would give my right arm to be able to see this film sometime soon… that or to find out if I can see SEX or SEK in the dust from under that lion.

8 thoughts on “SEKs and The Lion King Mystery

  1. Hi! I’ve always been wondering about “Empress Chung”, and how it was a joint South/North Co-op. I heard in South Korea, it was dubbed with South Korean voices, while in the North, it was dubbed with the dialect. So on the DVD itself, is there an option to select between two different audio tracks, one for each dialect?

    • That’s a good point. Alas, the DVD – as far as I can tell – hasn’t been released so we’re not able to tell. I think there would be a lot of interest in seeing it so let’s hope it turns up.

  2. Hello, i’ve started to follow this blog because i’m interested about North Korea (or better “DPRK”) and also their cinema, i will give some comments here and there, but i wanted to say something about this SEK – Lion King thing. I THINK that all the news can came from a basic error, it would be amazing to know that the Lion King and other Disney were partially drawn in NK, but i know more about how SEK has a link with the Italian company “Mondo-TV” and LOTS of Italian cartoons of ’90 are all actually made in NK (the style it’s also very close): i’m speaking of cartoon tv series as “Sandokan” (that were done also toys here from the cartoon’s style, because it’s a very loved story here in Italy) or “Last of the Mohican” (pretty amazing) and the co-production for French about “Corto Maltese” animations (that are simply masterpieces, comparing also with other western cartoons) and all of them has “SEK studios” and sometimes Korean names at the ending titles. All these works (expecially Corto Maltese) show the best of the North Korean artists that can be seen in some recent animated short cartoons for their television.
    This is the good point for Korean cinema, the thing about Lion King i think it’s an error (repeated many times) about the series “Simba it’s born a King” a series of “old style” animation that was pretty liked during ’90 but was a total “stealing” from characters under different copyright (Lion King from Disney, Bambi from Disney and Jungle’s Book anime from Toei animation).
    Then MAYBE they could have done both (the “true” Lion King and this other series for Italian TV) but i suggest you to check the Mondo-TV site (i think there is an English version too) … there are also some RELIGIOUS/christian cartoons done by the North Korean animators XD (the link for MondoTV)
    Also they should sell for western market at least one animated movie done for NK tv, “The enchanted mountain”

  3. Michele is absolutely right, I’m Italian, I work in animation as a storyboard artist, I actually worked in the past on a TV series produced here in Italy, designed and storyboarded here in Italy but animated in North Korea at Studio Sek; the Italian animation company Mondo TV made a lot of productions during the 90s on the wave of Disney’s successes of those days; many of them were low quality copies of Disney titles of the era ( among them The Lion King and Pocahontas) . So, for some reason the myth of Disney outsourcing animation to Studio Sek was born because of that. Probably, someone, who evidently is not an expert of animation, read somewhere that studio Sek animated a “Pocahontas” and they just thought to the Disney one, and word spread out.

    The fact that Disney outsources for animation is actually true, but they only do that for their TV series and direct to video movies, but they certainly don’t outsource to North Korea.

      • I actually knew of this a few years ago researching this fabled studio. I discovered “Mondo TV’s website and it all made sense.

        Probably the most infamous of these cheap animated projects the Italian guys had SEK do was two feature films surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. It’s really something if you track it down!

        It think the only ballsy thing the studio ever made was Rene Laloux’s “Gandahar”, I once read a blurb on how the North Korean animators constantly giggled at having to draw naked characters in the film, and it’s no wonder, given they haven’t really followed the same path as their Soviet Bloc neighbors in giving animators more liberties to do more ‘mature’ or contemporary animations for the adult demographic. I’m talking of course of the films that came out of Poland, Hungary or the USSR in the 70’s and 80’s that often were only ever seen in film festivals and won awards in those categories. North Korea has never really achieved that sort of feat in their animation when it’s still mostly used as a children’s medium.

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