Disney characters on North Korean TV

This above image and clip is from North Korean TV where some conspicuous Disney characters made an appearance. Here’s the story from AP:

Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters.

Performers dressed as some of America’s most memorable cartoon characters danced and pranced as footage from “Snow White,” “Dumbo,” “Beauty and the Beast” and other popular Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV on Saturday.

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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.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

There are so many facets of North Korean animation worth exploring (I touched on it a little bit in my last post).

By far the most fascinating account of how the animation industry works in North Korea can be found in the graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.  Guy Delisle – a French-speaking Canadian – was sent to North Korea by the French animation studio he was working for. Pyongyang finds itself the unlikely Asian hub for animation outsourcing, and a few titles you might not expect have been animated there (Disney’s The Lion King for one).

The graphic novel manages to capture the mundaneness and blandless of Pyongyang whilst maintaining the readers interest. If you’re interested in North Korea, it’s definitely one of the lighter reads available on the market.

North Korea Animation

My word. I have been slack.

A stack of new North Korean DVDs arrived, I got in contact with possibly the biggest authority (in the west) on North Korean film (Mr Johannes Schönherr) and people left right and centre have been pointing me in the direction of more online resources for North Korean film.

And yet the site isn’t getting updated as often as it should. Let’s blame it on the day job. And keep your eyes peeled for more updates in the future.

For now, to tide you over, here’s a link to a video on YouTube of a nameless North Korean anti-American animation. There’s so much to be said about the DPRK animation industry: how it often has work from the west farmed out to it, how Nelson Shin produced a joint North-South Korean animated film called Empress Chung and, most interestingly, part of Disney’s The Lion King were animated there.

But for now, let’s just enjoy this little short. And come back soon, for more updates are surely on the way.