Producers find box office success in animation

PARIS A new crop of ambitious Gallic 2-D toons are now aiming for mainstream auds, helped by the international response to such arthouse pics as last year’s “Persepolis” and 2003’s “Triplets of Belleville.”

With lower production costs than 3-D features, the 2-D films enable French producers to get into the toon biz with less risk while bringing Gallic subjects and sensibilities to their projects.

“There is a growing trend towards traditionally animated films that can be considered auteur films, with audacious universes and storylines that cater to family audiences and not merely children,” says Didier Brunner, producer at Paris-based animation shingle Les Armateurs (“Triplets of Belleville”).

 And as a result, “more and more producers in France are willing to take their chances with homemade animated films,” he adds.

Considering their relatively modest budgets, French 2-D toons have been solid performers on the homefront and abroad. Last year, “Persepolis” grossed $4.4 million in the U.S. and $18 million worldwide; pic was budgeted around $7 million. Michel Ocelot’s “Azur et Asmar,” with a $9 million budget, grossed $16 million in Gaul. “Triplets of Belleville” parlayed its animated Oscar nom into more than $7 million in the U.S., with nearly $15 million worldwide.

 French studios TF1 Intl. and Studio Canal, usually not big animation players, are jumping on the trend, developing and co-producing select art toons in 2-D.

It’s an interesting development for the biz, considering that bigger-budgeted CGI toons such as EuropaCorp’s “Monster in Paris,” Gaumont’s “Rock the Boat” and Pathe’s “Why I Did (Not) Eat My Father” have run into delays mostly due to financing.

 Studio Canal developed and is co-producing “Ernest and Celestine” based on Gabrielle Vincent’s novels. Produced by Brunner, plot centers on the friendship between a bear and a mouse.

 “It’s not just a film for children, it touches upon the themes of acceptance and tolerance,” says Julien Colombani, Studio Canal’s VP of production development.

 Studio Canal is financing 50% of the film. Brunner says he’s looking for a European partner to raise the other half of the financing, with production starting in April.

The Gallic paybox is also partly financing the development of “Un monde truque,” a sci-fi tale based on comics by Jacques Tardi, from “Persepolis” producer Marc Jousset, helmed by Christian Desmares.

 TF1 Intl. is co-producing “The Rabbi’s Cat,” a $17 million 2-D toon directed by Joann Sfar based on his award-winning comicbook which has been translated into 15 languages.

 Pic is in production and is set for a bow in early 2010.

“We fell in love with the project and its directors, Joan Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux,” says Henri Ernst, TF1 Intl.’s marketing topper.

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