A scene in historical animation Nữ Tướng Mê Linh (The Heroines). Photo courtesy of the Việt Nam Cartoon Company
By Lương Thu Hương
Though 2021 posed a year of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s animation industry went from strength to strength, receiving an abundance of awards and millions of hits on YouTube.
Việt Nam Cartoon Studio (the Việt Nam Cartoon Joint Stock Company) last year completed its production plan, having 16 films approved by the Cinema Department under the culture ministry for distribution.
The films produced by the company were diverse, rich in forms of expression and contained many unique features.
Three historical animated films -- Nữ Tướng Mê Linh (The Heroines), Bạch Đằng Nổi Sóng (The Battle on Bạch Đằng River), Đại Hành Hoàng Đế (Emperor Đại Hành), each 30 minutes long -- showcased stunning content and visual effects, gaining great audience feedback.
3D production The Heroines tells the life of Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, the two sisters who led the first Vietnamese uprising against Chinese Han occupation nearly 2,000 years ago, while The Battle on Bạch Đằng River, a cut-out animation, features the victorious battle of Vietnamese troops led by General Ngô Quyền on the Bạch Đằng River in 938 against China's Southern Han invaders.
The last animation, Đại Hành Hoàng Đế (Emperor Đại Hành), praises Emperor Lê Đại Hành who used his wit and talent to lead the nation to fight against Chinese Song invaders, winning peace and prosperous life for the country in the 10th century.
Though historical in nature, the cartoonists have broken out of the dry, conventional storytelling of former fact-based stories. Figures from history are vividly brought to life, while their inner personalities have been thoroughly explored to form a new style of Vietnamese animation, different to anything the country's cinema industry has ever produced before. Some experts say the country is set for a "golden period of animation."
"It's been a while since I last watched Vietnamese cartoons, but I have honestly been taken by surprise by new Vietnamese historical animated films with beautiful pictures, good motion and storyline, particularly the epic scenes, which are not inferior to those produced by famous studios in the world,” said Nguyễn Thị Nga, a cartoon-fan in Hà Nội.
Staff and artists of the Việt Nam Cartoon Company are pictured in front of the building of the company, located on Trần Phú Street, Hà Nội. Photo courtesy of the Việt Nam Cartoon Company
2021 was also a year of achievements for the Việt Nam Cartoon Company at the Golden Lotus awards at the 22nd Việt Nam Film Festival in Huế City, with Con Chim Gỗ (The Wooden Birds) taking the gold award, while Người Thầy Của Muôn Đời (The Teacher of Eternity) and Ánh Sáng Không Bao Giờ Tắt (The Light That Never Goes Out) both won silver awards.
At the Golden Kite, the studio won two awards, the highest of which was given to Truyền Thuyết Gươm Thần (The Legend of the Divine Sword).
The first and second prizes of the Animation Competition 2021 organised by the Korea Content Creation Agency and the Korean Cultural Centre were given to Ngọn Lửa Vĩnh Cửu (Eternal Flame) and Chiến Binh Mèo Mũi Đỏ (Red Nosed Cat Warrior), respectively.
In addition, the Dế Mèn (Cricket) award, given by the Vietnam News Agency's Thể Thao & Văn Hóa (Sports & Culture) daily, was won by Khúc Gỗ Mục (Rotten Log).
The YouTube channel of the studio – Hoạt Hình Việt Nam (Vietnamese Cartoon) -- has been constantly updated with new animated films, attracting nearly 600,000 subscribers and nearly 200 million views since its launch in June 2018.
Many films on the channel gained high views such as Anh Em Nhà Gà (Chicken Siblings) with over 27 million views, Bố Của Gà Con (Chicks Daddy) 18 million views, and Cướp Giả Cướp Thật (Fake Robbery, Real Robbery) 15 million views.
Adaptation and innovation
Young artists and creators of Thám Tử Đầu Bạc (White-Haired Detective). Photo courtesy of the Việt Nam Cartoon Company
According to screenwriter Phạm Thanh Hà, head of the Script Department at the Việt Nam Cartoon Company, such achievements have resulted from constant efforts in improving the quality of animation, the staff and artists at the studio.
Like many other sectors, animation faced many difficulties in terms of production, promotion and distribution due to the pandemic over the last two years.
“In addition to complying with pandemic prevention measures, the Việt Nam Cartoon Company still had to stick to its production schedule in order not to delay the release of films or overlap production stages, which could affect film quality,” Hà said.
“In-person film screenings at the cinema of the studio, mobile screenings as well as direct interaction with the audience that aims to motivate and inspire animation artists have all been minimised, unfortunately.”
Hà said that to adapt to the pandemic conditions, the studio adjusted its production and business plans considerably.
In terms of the production, the studio built a plan for each film crew, assigning tasks for 19 film crews in 2020 and 16 film crews in 2021 so that the filmmaking stages, personnel and equipment were neither stagnant nor overlapping, and could maintain high quality.
The studio has constantly improved its output and diversified its products while strengthening and promoting the image and brand of Việt Nam’s animation.
“Thanks to the efforts in recent years, we have created unique features for Vietnamese cartoons with beautiful images, flexible movements, fresh colours, rich content, which is close to children’s modern lives while still preserving typical Vietnamese innocence, simple and pure characteristics,” Hà said.
“One of the successes of the studio in the past years is introducing films to the audience via various means of communications, including central and local television channels, paid TV channels and especially, social networks. We have effectively launched and managed our official channel on YouTube.”
A scene from the animation Cái Đuôi Của Cậu Ấm (Rich Kid's Tail). Photo courtesy of the Việt Nam Cartoon Company
Many successful Vietnamese animations have been able to attract millions of views like Chicks Daddy, Fake Robbery Real Robbery or Smart Ant thanks to improved quality factors such as attractive content, vivid colours and flexible movements.
“Such cartoons are animated real-life stories that any child could be associated with, creating humour and joy that they want to be immersed in or beautiful and fascinating historical stories that they want to explore," Hà said.
The Việt Nam Cartoon Company's films focus on producing animated films commissioned by the culture ministry that explore topics such as national history, fairy tales, the environment or philosophy, and are demonstrated in various styles like 2D, 3D or computer-generated papercutting.
The company also offered services for creating entertainment products such as animated music videos and advertisements.
Hà said the company would focus on promoting film distribution to bring Vietnamese cartoons to a larger young audience and improving production capacity in human resources and technologies to better the quality and quantity this year.
“Vietnamese animation will make best efforts to fulfil its role as an art product that meets both educational and entertainment standards,” she added.
The most recent animated series that the company has released is Chú Thỏ Bonnie (Bonnie the Rabbit), which has proved something of a moral gift for children during the pandemic
Bonnie the Rabbit tells of the life of a rabbit family and the many memories in the heart of a young rabbit named Bonnie, with each four-minute episode teaching a gentle and profound lesson.
Its production team has devoted much enthusiasm to the development, from the script to visual effects, to create characters that every child will love. It has been a huge success.
According to the production team, the young audience can easily see themselves in Bonnie's speech, reactions and way of solving all the situations she encounters.
The Hoạt Hình Việt Nam (Việt Nam Cartoon) Youtube channel has become a favourite address to many children during these COVID-hit years. VNS Photo Lương Hương
"Bonnie is so cute. I enjoy watching the series so much that I frequently watch it after I finish my homework. I cannot wait for the next episode on YouTube," said 8-year-old Nguyễn Phương Hà, a second grader from the Nguyễn Bá Ngọc Primary School in Hà Nội.
Children aside, the Hoạt Hình Việt Nam YouTube Channel has also won the hearts of many parents.
"I have always been concerned about what my children watched on YouTube and their recreation. However, I have been impressed with both the content and images of the cartoons on the channel, which have significantly improved in recent years. I feel secure when my kids watch them," said Nguyễn Huy Hiệp, a father of two.
With, fingers-crossed, the pandemic on the wane, 2022 could be a year that sees Vietnamese animation reach ever greater heights. VNS