Toon is country's biggest-budgeted film
MADRID — Shrek didn’t remain forever after at Prince Farquaad’s swanky castle.Now one of his creators, screenwriter Joe Stillman (“Shrek,” “Shrek 2”), has also found pastures green outside Hollywood, penning the screenplay for indie toon “Planet One.” Produced by Madrid’s Ilion Animation Studios and London’s Handmade Films in a 60-40 financing split, the 1950s-style alien-world spoof underscores the existence of increasingly ambitious life in the international CGI animation arena. Directed by Jorge Blanco, the $54 million pic is the biggest-budgeted film of any type ever to come out of Spain. It marks the entry into feature filmmaking of arguably Spain’s most successful international entertainment company, vidgame and cell-phone content specialist the Wisdom Group. But “Planet One” is hardly a single-country project. Ilion’s Ignacio Perez Dolset produces with Handmade’s Guy Collins and Mike Ryan as co-producers, along with former Nickelodeon prexy Albie Hecht and Lolafilms CEO Andres Vicente Gomez. And “Planet One,” which Handmade will presell at Cannes, continues the exodus of top Hollywood tooners. The biggest recent name drain came in March, when Hong Kong’s Imagi (“TMNT”) hired four Hollywood animators, including former DreamWorks Animation co-head of production Cecil Kramer, to drive its thrust into producing CGI superhero tooners. Ilion, by contrast, has tapped a screenwriter. Perez Dolset and Blanco broke through internationally as the producer and lead artist on cult vidgame franchise “Commandos,” launched in 1998 by Wisdom’s vidgame developer Pyro Studios. “We’ve inherited visuals and technology from videogames. But with the screenplay, we looked for guidance,” Perez Dolset says. Pic turns on U.S. astronaut Captain Russ Barker, whose shuttle approaches a supposedly uninhabited planet, only to touch down at a backyard barbecue. Though greenish with banana-tressed hair, Planet One’s denizens live an American, ’50s-picket-fence lifestyle. And, though befriended by alien teen Lem, Russ, a regular guy, is taken to be a fearful monster. “What Pixar and DreamWorks do really well above all is the script and characterization, the storyline and plotting,” says Tim Westcott, a senior analyst at the U.K.-based media research company Screen Digest. Also, says Westcott, by doing 3-D, inevitably one invites comparison with DreamWorks and Pixar. “You can see step changes in quality and technique in every Pixar film,” he adds. “Planet One” has defined a look: a soft-rounded, cotton-candy colored world, with full-skirted girls and Borsalino hats: “Pleasantville” meets Havana, with ’50s B-movie allusions. “Planet One’s” largest challenge will be distribution. “Distribution is the horse that pulls the cart,” says Westcott. “To recoup on this kind of budget, the makers have to be looking at a release in the U.S.” Handmade has begun to tackle distribution. Per vet producer/sales agent Collins, the U.S. distribution would demand a minimum domestic P&A of $20 million-$25 million. Not an inconsequential amount on any planet.