Director Kirby Adkins says his greatest fear about “Mosley,” his ambitious animated feature about fantasy creatures called thoriphants, was that too many compromises would have to get made along the way — and that the movie would become “screwed up.”
Making “Mosley” as an international production — it is the first film to make use of the bilateral New Zealand-China treaty — and delivering a nuanced, family story that goes beyond purely kids’ entertainment, both seem to add to the risks.
Previously called “Beast of Burden,” the film follows the eponymous hero Mosley and his family of intelligent four-legged creatures who have the ability to speak like humans but who have been cursed to live a life of servitude. In an attempt to free his family, Mosley embarks on a perilous journey to find the mythical land of Kinesareth.
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That it avoided most pitfalls and has now begun its theatrical career, kicking off through Rialto in New Zealand, owes much to Huhu Studios. The 100-person studio is headed by Trevor Yaxley, a Briton who relocated to New Zealand decades ago.
Adkins’ pitch of an already story-boarded and partially sound-recorded project and Yaxley’s determination to bridge the production gap between China and New Zealand became a match strong enough to weather the multiple obstacles that littered the co-production route and overcome the limitations of a $20 million budget.
“So many times, we had people telling us that something can’t be done this way, such as getting money out of China, we proved them wrong,” says Yaxley. “We didn’t take short cuts with the bureaucracy. We did have partners in New Zealand and China who supported us.”
His partners included the New Zealand Film Commission, state-owned giant China Film Group and its offshoot China Film Animation (CFA).Most of the 3D animation production and design work was done in New Zealand, while the Chinese provided manpower and computing muscle. Now designated as a preferred partner by the China Film Co-production Corp., Huhu helped CFA train staff and build a stronger production pipeline for future pictures. The English-language voice cast is significantly Kiwi. It includes Rhys Darby (“Trolls”), Temuera Morrison (“Aquaman”) and Lucy Lawless (“Xena: Warrior Princess”), as well as Welsh “Lord of the Rings” alumnus John Rhys Davies.
Lotus Entertainment launched international sales in Berlin this year, and racked up good early business. The film has recently picked up a nomination for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Now, Adkins and Yaxley must be hoping that their crucial China release does not get screwed up. The film lost its Dec. 5 slot and looks to be headed for a January outing, shortly before Chinese New Year. That could be a boon, or a bust.