StudioCanal, Autochenille back toonpic

Exclusive: ANNECY — Having burst onto the filmmaking scene directing “Gainsbourg” and “The Rabbi’s Cat,” French comic-book artist turned helmer Joann Sfar is teaming with Euro mini-major StudioCanal for what looks set to be one of the most talked-about toon projects coming out of France, “Little Vampire.”

An English-language 3D animated feature, “Little Vampire” adapts Sfar’s best-selling graphic novel “Little Vampire Goes to School.”

Sfar is writing and will direct.

“Little Vampire” turns on tyke vampire, called Little Vampire, who lives in a house full of amiable but aged ghouls and monsters.

Missing the company of other children, Little Vampire helps out a human child, Michel, an orphan, who is behind with his homework, and they become friends.

StudioCanal and Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux’s Paris-based shingle Autochenille are co-developing and will co-produce.

StudioCanal will distribute “Vampire” in France, U.K., via subsid Optimum, and Germany, through Kinowelt, which it also owns.

StudioCanal will handle international sales. Sfar and Delesvaux produce. Autochenille is working with John Carls, a producer on “Rango” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” on “Little Vampire” development.

“‘Little Vampire’ should be very funny for adults, but also play for a broad range of kids,” StudioCanal chairman-CEO Olivier Courson said.

Sfar said “Little Vampire” channels Roger Corman horror films and the “Peanuts” comicbook, two inspirations from his youth.

“More than about friendship, ‘Little Vampire’ is about the freeing imagination that is useful to overwhelm difficult realities. The whole point is to be funny about sad subjects,” Sfar added, saying “Little Vampire,” his first venture into CGI, will be gentle in its tone, and aimed at mainstream audiences.

Given the success Stateside of “Vampire” — “Little Vampire Goes to School” was included on the New York Times best-selling list — StudioCanal and Autochenille may bring in a U.S. partner, sharing some international rights to the pic.

“Our ambition is to give the film the largest distribution possible worldwide,” Courson said.

Skedded for delivery year-end 2013, “Little Vampire” forms part of StudioCanal’s muscular and ever-increasing drive into animation.

The Euro mini-major is co-producing and/or distributing and selling films by Michel Ocelot (“Kirikou and Men and Women”), Ben Stassen (“Sammy’s Adventures 2″), and Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier (“Ernest and Celestine”), who directed “A Town Called Panic.”

The original “Sammy Adventures: The Secret Passage,” which StudioCanal also distributed in France, Germany and U.K., and sold elsewhere, has proved one of its biggest hits to date, grossing $79 million worldwide and counting.

Stassen’s NWave, in which StudioCanal took a stake in February 2010, now plans to have one film in development and a second in production, or one in production and a second in post-production, Courson said.

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