Feature toons rule in Latin America

Local pics on horizon in wake of 'Ice Age 3' success

Latin America is becoming a hotbed for animation as local producers forge ties with international companies, while more studios are keen to distribute their toons.

Animated pics are a goldmine for the region’s young, family-oriented population. Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” has reached “Titanic” status as the all-time box office leader in Latin America, with nearly 12 million admissions in Mexico.

Several companies are ready to bow Latin feature toons:

— In October, Fox releases its first local animated pickup across Latin America, Peru’s “The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer,” based on the bestseller by Peruvian-born Sergio Bambaren, who produced the pic in association with Passworld Italy and DDG Germany.

— Universal Pictures Mexico will release its first local animated, “Nikte,” which producer Soco Aguilar hopes will educate Mexican children about their heritage as well as entertain them.

— “Reef II,” Studio C’s co-production with U.S. toon house the Animation Picture Co. (TAPC) is in distribution talks with the Weinstein Co., which released “The Reef” in the U.S. and Latin America.

Paramount Mexico is eyeing some animated projects in development from Guatemala-based Studio C, which has an outpost in Mexico.

But homegrown hits remain few and far between, and most appeal to national auds only. Some projects are hoping to tap into classic American characters that presumably resonate for Latin auds, including “Top Cat” and “Mr. Magoo.”

Argentina’s Patagonik Film Group struck box office gold at home with comic strip-based “Dibu, la pelicula” in 1997 and “Patoruzito” in 2004.

In 2006, irreverent toon “Una Pelicula de Huevos,” about an egg that wants to be a chicken, surprised the Mexican market when it rose to number two all-time local blockbuster status.

“Few Latin American movies have worked across the region, but we’re hoping to break this trend with ‘The Dolphin,’ ” says Hernan Viviano, Fox Chile general manager, who discovered the project when he headed Fox Peru. Celluloid Dreams is taking the pic to a slew of markets and festivals.

Even fewer Latino toon houses make it their mandate to produce a steady stream of animated shows. Keeping up the pace can be perilous. Disney-backed Patagonik Film Group, which churned out a number of toons, has temporarily shuttered its animation division. “Our last two films did not do well and were not cost-efficient,” Patagonik head Juan Pablo Galli says.

Mexico’s Anima Studios, however, bucks that trend, having produced 2,200 minutes of animation since its launch in 2002, the most prolific in the region. The shingle is working on its third season of the wildly popular “El Chavo” TV series for Mexico’s Televisa.

Run by prexy Fernando de Fuentes and exec VP Jose Carlos Garcia de Letona, Anima has set up partnerships with U.S. shingles Porchlight Entertainment and Classic Media to make animated TV special “A Martian Christmas” and feature toon “Kung Fu Magoo,” respectively.

“Before we came on the scene, Mexico had only produced two animated features in 30 years; we wanted to change that,” Garcia de Letona says.

Porchlight exec producer Fred Schaefer says his company frequently works overseas, but that Anima, unlike some of its European counterparts, is a one-stop shop. “We didn’t have to ship the animation production to Asia,” Schaefer says, “making (working with Anima) more cost- and time-efficient.”

In October, “Martian” makes its DVD debut in the U.S. via E1 Entertainment, marking a first for Anima. Its previous features, “Magos y Gigantes” and “Imaginum,” didn’t make it Stateside.

Classic Media cast the Sprouse brothers of “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” as voice talent in the $3 million “Magoo,” which it will release on DVD in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Warner Bros. Mexico has first option to worldwide rights for upcoming Anima stereoscopic 3-D CGI pic “Top Cat,” based on the Hanna-Barbera classic toon.

“With these projects, we hope to reposition our company as a global player,” de Fuentes says. All three pics are in English.

Argentina’s Illusion Studios has been inking co-production pacts with a host of international toon houses, including Anima, Toonz (India), Cookie Jar (Canada), Optix (Germany), Disney Latin America and Nickelodeon Latin America.

“Boogie,” co-produced by Illusion, Spain’s Perro Verde Films and Canada’s Copernicus Studio, has been competing at international animation fests.

Illusion’s $6 million stereoscopic 3-D animated pic “Gaturro,” made with Toonz and Anima, bows theatrically in Argentina, Mexico and India in 2010.

“Our main objective is to produce not just for Argentina but for the rest of the world,” says Gaston Cami, VP of international sales and co-productions.

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