Business Korean animation Of penguins and politics
商业 韩国动画 企鹅和政治
Pororo the penguin could be the next Teletubbies
CHILDREN'S characters are often subversive. Harry Potter promotes underage sorcery. Tinky-Winky encourages homosexuality (he is purple and carries a handbag). And Pororo, an adorable cartoon penguin, is probably a communist.
Not really. But South Koreans until recently feared that Pororo, one of their most popular cultural exports, might be banned in America because of a link with the communist North. A few episodes made between 2002 and 2005 were part-produced by North Korean animators, and thus possibly fell foul of America's ban on imports from that benighted country. After an uproar in South Korea, however, America's Treasury Department announced last month that the show was a form of "information" and therefore not subject to sanctions.
Pororo and his pals (Poby the polar bear, Crong the dinosaur, etc) delight anklebiters in more than 100 countries. In South Korea, the little blue penguin has 1,500 spin-off products and a section in a theme park. In March 3m Pororo-branded postage-stamp sets sold out in just ten days. Pororo is so powerful that Koreans call him Potongryong ("President Pororo"). According to the Seoul Business Agency, Pororo will generate global sales of 38 billion won ($36m) this year, and the brand is worth 389.3 billion won for Iconix (the firm that created it) and others.
Two explanations are offered for Pororo's success. First, Choi Jong-il, the founder of Iconix (pictured, with friend), meticulously studied the storylines, theme music and other aspects of Western preschool hits such as Teletubbies. Second, Korea is home to legions of gifted animators. (Korean schoolkids are obsessed with Japanese-style manga.)
South Korean animators have for many years done much of the heavy lifting on American TV shows such as "The Simpsons". Some American firms have also made use of cheaper animators from the North. Jing Kim, a Beijing-based businessman, claims that he has helped a number of companies to subcontract animation work from 500 artists at SEK Studio in Pyongyang.
Pororo's success suggests that South Koreans can sell stories as well as drawing skills. Yet the cartoon attracts controversy at home. One exasperated father has started a campaign to make Pororo eat Korean food, instead of Western cakes. But just as Pororo himself dreams of flying, his creators dream of global stardom. So Pororo probably won't be wolfing kimchi anytime soon.