Despite many big budget Hollywood films relying upon Korean animators for years, Korea isn’t the country that many would immediately think of amongst the giants of animation. Japanese anime has seen its popularity grow exponentially over the years thanks to amazing creators such as Hayao Miyazaki and, most recently, Makoto Shinkai. However, animation from Korea has never really found its footing here in the west.
Of course, when animation from Korean creators is mentioned, there are usually two little creatures that easily spring to people’s mind – a little penguin and a baby shark anyone? Pink Fong’s Baby Shark song has been almost impossible to avoid over the past year. Many know it in the English form, although the first version was in Korean. The English video is fast approaching nearly 3 billion views on YouTube, making it one of the most popular videos on the site. And it’s not just kids that have been singing along. We’d bet that it’s been stuck in your head one or two times since you inevitably stumbled across it. If you’ve managed to avoid it for this long, let us be the ones to break that streak by getting the catchy little tune stuck in your head right now!
One other character from Korean kids animations is also widely known across the world. Pororo the Little Penguin began airing in 2003 in South Korea, and has since gone on to receive awards from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and become a mascot for transportation in Seoul. The show follows Pororo the Penguin who lives in the Porong Porong Forest, solving problems with his friends, often giving a moral lesson to kids in each episode. His design was inspired by Mickey Mouse, a cultural icon by the time of Pororo’s creation.
American produced shows have also made use of the talents of Korean animation studios over the years. Shows such as Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender were mostly animated by teams of Korean animators, from direction to production. As one of the highest rated animated TV series of all time, this says a great deal about the standards to which the animators held themselves.
This comes from a long history of animation in Korea, one that isn’t as well known as it perhaps ought to be. Much like many other countries, animation in Korea found its roots in creating stories for children – a stereotype that still persists to this day. In 1967, the first full length animated feature film created by a Korean studio was released. Hong Gil Dong was a box office hit inspired by a traditional Korean tale that sparked a whole slew of animated films. Hopi and Chadol Bawi, The Golden Iron Man and many, many more followed. It wasn’t until after 1972 that audiences started to wane. This was mostly attributed to the rise in Korean families owning black and white television sets. Disney also had started releasing their own animations in Korean cinema’s, which gave Korean creators some strong competition. But one thing that these original Korean films had in their favour was the traditional inspiration that used. Korean audiences were familiar with the stories, often folk tales and historical legends. It’s this reason that makes them so uniquely tied to Korean culture.
These style of films might not prove as popular these days, but the influence of Korea is still apparent in modern day animation. Whilst it may not hold as much sway as Japan’s anime, there’s still a place for animators to shine. Perhaps one day a revival of Korean traditional animated films will occur, one that will spark a new era of creations to join in the Hallyu wave.
If you want to dive a little deeper into Korea’s animation history, check out Ho Hyun Park’s fascinating overview of the most influential films on the Korean film industry below.