"On the bright side" looks different from other Chinese animation features

China's homegrown cg films, many of which remix mythology into action-heavy fantasy, are a growing force at the domestic box office. But the country's feature animation industry is also maturing in another way: in terms of styles, stories, and formats, it is increasingly diverse.

Take To the Bright Side, a new seven-part anthology film that probes the theme of childhood from various angles. Each part is directed by a different person, with techniques ranging from watercolor to cut-out. Watch a trailer, sadly without English subtitles, below:

The feature, which is based on picture-book stories, will be released in China on January 15, having played at the Beijing International Film Festival in September. Producers include Yantong Zhu, artistic director of the festival Feinaki Beijing Animation Week, which we attended in 2019.

Another thing that strikes us in the trailer is the prevalence of ordinary people and places. Stories unfold in kitchens and suburbs, and we see characters cook and commute, although there are clearly some fantastical elements.

This relative realism is still quite rare in Chinese animated features, especially among the films that are made for family audiences or get exported. Other films that eschew high fantasy include Liu Jian's grungy crime drama Have a Nice Day and I Am What I Am, whose character design - which aims for a kind of naturalism - has triggered a backlash.