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China’s Tencent Pictures teams up with Turner Asia-Pacific to develop Tuzki animated movie

Tencent Holdings, one of Asia’s most valuable companies, is revving up its motion picture business under a deal with Turner Asia-Pacific to develop a combined 3D animated and live action movie based on Tuzki, a popular cartoon rabbit emoticon used on WeChat.

The Chinese internet giant’s film production arm, Shanghai Tencent Pictures Culture Media (Tencent Pictures), said on Monday that the movie will have a 2017 project start date and see a wide release on the mainland in 2018.

“This announcement is a huge milestone as we look to grow the Tuzki franchise, and reinforces Turner’s commitment to its growing business in China,” Clément Schwebig, Turner Asia-Pacific’s senior vice-president of business development, said in a statement.

Financial terms of the co-production deal were not disclosed. Turner Asia-Pacific is a unit of New York-based media conglomerate Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System.

According to Tencent Pictures, the Tuzki movie is part of a slate of 21 film and television projects that it plans to develop from this year.

Tencent Pictures is a separate entity from Shanghai-based online drama producer Penguin Pictures and Hong Kong-listed Huayi Tencent Entertainment Company, which was formed earlier this year by Shenzhen-traded film studio Huayi Brothers Media Corp, Tencent and Yunfeng Capital.

Private equity firm Yunfeng Capital was co-founded by Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma Yun. New York-listed Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Tuzki, created by artist Momo Wang in 2006 and owned by Turner, is best known on social media platforms and instant communication apps, but has appeared in short animated projects before.

Tencent has estimated that Tuzki has seen more than 5 billion downloads to date on WeChat, which is known as Weixin on the mainland.

In August, Tencent reported that WeChat had 805.7 million total monthly active users as of June 30.

“Millions of young adults in China have used Tuzki’s unique expressions to communicate their feelings with their friends. Now, they can experience Tuzki’s story in what promises to be a remarkable [movie],” Tencent Pictures said in a statement.

Tencent Pictures will be responsible for the Tuzki movie’s production and distribution, while Turner Asia-Pacific will pursue licensing efforts in terms of consumer products and family entertainment centres.

Last September, Tencent Pictures announced its partnership with Hollywood studio Legendary Pictures in making an undisclosed investment in action-fantasy film Warcraft.

This US$160-million filmed adaptation of popular online video game World of Warcraft has grossed US$433.54 million worldwide as of end-July, according to Box Office Mojo.

Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed movie unit, Alibaba Pictures, had earlier invested an undisclosed sum in Paramount Pictures’ Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, which had a US$150-million budget and starred Tom Cruise. It had a worldwide gross of US$682.33 million as of end-October last year.