Last week, Disney’s The Lion King musical announced it has made $6.2 billion worldwide, meaning the Broadway favorite now has the most successful box office of anything in any medium in entertainment history. But while this lavish production has managed to capture the heart of every generation it comes into contact with, the internet has found a new “King” in a far-less-budgeted animation studio.
Meet Dingo Pictures.
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At some point in our lives, we’ve all encountered knockoffs in some form. From bakeries whose cakes feature the images of princesses that look a little too familiar to the shoddily painted toys of Chinatown to well-meaning relatives surprising us with “Pubu” clothes, many a blind eye has been turned to those being fairly liberal with copyrights in hopes of making a little money. Nowhere was this more prevalent than the heyday of video stores where cheap direct-to-video releases, clearly taking cues from Hollywood’s biggest hits, attempted to penetrate the market and make some look-alike money.
Known as “Mockbusters,” these films tend to time their release with that of a more successful mainstream counterpart. Whether aimed to piggyback off the success of a famous film or to cash in on a trend or perhaps make money off of confusion in the marketplace, these movies, like The Terminators or Transmorphers, don’t just resemble the biggest silver-screen hits by sheer coincidence.
But unlike other studios that have entered the look-alike game, there’s something peculiar, unsettling, and ultimately fascinating about Dingo Pictures’ journey to internet royalty, which screams of low-budget deception every step of the way. They aren’t the off-brand, they’re the off-off-off-brand.
Dingo Pictures was founded in Germany sometime in the late ’90s. (Tracing its exact origins and personnel has proven impossible, and attempts to reach the studio were unsuccessful.) Making animated films with recycled poorly synced animated loops, they kept the total number of voice actors in each project to just two or three and then translated (also poorly) these cartoons into several languages for worldwide distribution. Their most distributed release, Aladin (the company’s take on Disney’s Aladdin), visibly and shamelessly takes its cues from the more popular film, from the blue genie to the title character (who looks traced outright). Yet a glimpse of any scene is sure to remove any confusion with the Disney property, as the poorly acted, poorly synced, and even poorly recorded dialogue is sheerly baffling.
But while a glance at YouTube comments shows Aladin found an audience in the states through dollar store and bargain bin purchases, Dingo Pictures’ biggest successes in Europe came through an even less likely pipeline. Teaming up in the early 2000s with Phoenix Games, a video game developer famous for bragging about its short production turnaround time for titles, Dingo Pictures found its films releases as “games” for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 platforms. What these discs consisted of were the cartoon as the main feature, and then additional “games” of coloring the scenes or putting together puzzle pieces of the images.
It’s these releases, on Phoenix Games, that found their way into forever haunting the deepest recesses of reviewers’ minds and eventually being captured on YouTube to delight those of us utterly fascinated by the incomprehensible. Releases like Dalmatians 3 (boasting a character who resembles 101 Dalmatians villain Cruella de Vil on the cover even though this character doesn’t make an appearance in the film itself) capture all the hallmarks of Dingo Pictures’ mockbusters. Along with the revolving set of recycled animations (the bird narrator and several pups make appearances in a number of Dingo’s releases) there’s the limited number of voice actors, endlessly looped stock music, and a script that in English makes little sense. It’s a children’s movie where a puppy and kitty both say “Damn!” The quality control of appropriate dialogue for children’s entertainment is always pretty off in these films — and in the strangest of ways, too. Mickey Mouse knockoff Mouse Police concludes with (SPOILER ALERT) the two mice children winning a free trip to Italy after finding the stolen cheese and screaming, “Cool! Us two against the Mafia!”
The Dingo Pictures release that’s made the most noise online has been Dinosaurs Adventure. Imagine if The Land Before Time was re-imagined by someone whose entire knowledge of dinosaurs came from looking at The Land Before Time‘s theatrical poster. It tells the tale of Tio, a cute baby dinosaur (who also says “Damn!”) who, along with his friends, goes on a mission to find his parents after a volcano erupts. For the new fans who’ve discovered the cartoon online this past summer, the ridiculous English version wasn’t enough, leading them to watching it in other languages, giving birth to the internet’s hottest meme: “Yee,” in which a poorly drawn dinosaur interrupts a singing dinosaur by saying “Yee,” and subsequently disappointing him. The brief clip has taken on a life of its own.
For all the money that The Lion King musical on Broadway has taken in, surely Disney wouldn’t be concerned with taking legal action against Dingo Pictures’ potential copyright infringement, right? Dingo’s lion film, cleverly titled Son of the Lion King, does seem to draw characters the closest to what could be their Disney counterparts, with the Mufasa and Simba characters (renamed “The King of the Lions” and “Robin,” respectively) looking as if they were outright traced. But if that still weren’t enough, there’s the case of Dingo Pictures’ absurd masterpiece, Animal Soccer World.
The “story” boils down to a panther and a dog getting into a scuffle; the King of the Lions declares the only way to settle the score is for the two to have a soccer match featuring all the animals of the jungle. Along with several of the animals looking like their character design were lifted from Disney’s The Lion King, Robin Hood, Bambi, The Aristocats, and The Jungle Book, the voice acting is so amateur that the flipping of script pages can actually be heard during the dialogue. Couple this with the entirely nonsensical plot and one musical loop that literally continues nonstop throughout the entire film, and you have what has to be considered The Room of animated movies.
This sheer disregard for quality is probably why the internet has fallen so much in love with Dingo Pictures. While these non-video games and bargain bin standards have seemingly had small cult followings for years, largely among masochists who seek out bad games, the past year has seen fanaticism for these cartoons result in views in the hundreds of thousands. With such recurring trademarks as poorly synced laughing, recycled animations from other cartoons, and the inexplicable frequent use of the word “rubbish” (fans leave a “rubbish counter” in the comments of each of the videos, keeping track of the times it gets said), Dingo Pictures has inadvertently created an addicting mini-universe that fans can’t help but share.
While Disney’s The Lion King and Aladdin may continue to dominate Broadway, Dingo Pictures has found that the internet has its own circle of life. Yee.