In the first instalment of the Despicable Me franchise, released in 2010, the hero Felonious Gru is a longtime villain who devotes himself to a life of grand heists such as stealing the Moon.
So Chinese filmgoers were surprised to learn this month that Gru had, in fact, given up his criminal career after a brief period of juvenile delinquency in his early teens.
What had happened was that Chinese censors had slapped a new ending on Minions: The Rise of Gru – a cartoon created to chart Gru’s rise from naughty teenager to one of the greatest supervillains of all time.
As readers of Week in China will know, transformations of film endings aren’t unusual in China, especially in situations in which the censors feel the need to make a moral point.
The Rise of Gru should conclude with an eleven year-old Gru riding off into the sunset with his hero Wild Knuckles, having proved beyond doubt that he has what it takes to train as a supervillain. But a message on Chinese cinema screens tells us that Wild Knuckles was quickly apprehended by the police and sentenced to 20 years in jail. Gru, we are also informed, “returned to his family” and that the biggest accomplishment in his life is “being the father to his three girls”.
Moviegoers recoiled at the heavy-handed messaging, pointing out that Gru repents of his dastardly ways later in life (in the first Despicable Me film) – making his character arc much more positive.
Viewers also marvelled at how censors felt the need to add a corrective lesson to a film that is so unabashedly silly. “Surely they can’t really think a cartoon about small, clumsy, yellow creatures [Gru’s Minion sidekicks] can morally corrupt us,” queried one irritated fan.
Situations like these aren’t unprecedented, following a number of other cases in which censors have intervened to change the plots of films in peculiar ways.
The climax of the Brad Pitt classic Fight Club was subjected to a major overhaul, for instance, in which the protagonist doesn’t blow up a block of skyscrapers as he does in the original version.
Instead there was a quick on-screen message explaining that the police “rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding”.
The 2018 Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was also edited to remove references to the singer’s homosexuality, while references to lesbianism were cut out of episodes of the American sitcom Friends that streamed on Chinese sites earlier this year.
There were also rumours that the Spiderman and Doctor Strange franchises failed to secure releases for their latest instalments in China because they contained content said to have been of concern to film regulators.
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