Gotham-based shingle nabs 'Rabbi's Cat,' 'Zarafa'

PARIS– In time for Gaul’s Annecy Animation Film Festival, which kicks off today, New York-based GKids has acquired a pair of critically acclaimed French toons: Joann Sfar’s “The Rabbi’s Cat,” which won the Annecy Crystal for film in 2011 and this year’s competition player “Zarafa,” directed by Remi Bezancon and Jean-Christophe Lie.

Set in a Jewish household in 1920s Algiers, “The Rabbi’s Cat” is a colorful and witty adaptation of Sfar’s comicbook series “Le chat du rabin,” turning on a feline enamoured with his mistress, the Rabbi’s daughter.

Repped by TF1 Intl., the toon, the directorial debut of Sfar and animation producer Antoine Delesvaux, was a critical success, winning a Gallic Cesar award. It’s produced by Sfar and Delesvaux’s Autochenille Prods.

“Zarafa” is a picturesque fable following the journey of a 10-year-old Egyptian boy and a baby giraffe travelling from Sudan to Paris. The feature is inspired by the true story of Zarafa, a two-year-old orphaned giraffe given to Gaul’s King Charles X by the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha, in 1824.

“Zarafa” is Gallic helmer Bezancon’s toon debut. His live action credits include “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” and Louise Bourgoin starrer “A Happy Event.” Co-helmer, Lie is an animation vet, who previously worked on “The Triplets of Belleville” and “Kirikou and the Wild Beasts,” among other toons.

Produced by Prima Linea, the Berlin-preeming “Zarafa” earned warm reviews and enjoyed a solid run at the French B.O. Pathe, which released “Zarafa” in Gaul and reps it in international markets, closed key distribution deals, notably for Germany and Russia, at Cannes.

U.S. distrib GKids, which hosts the New York Children Festival in March, has been ramping up acquisitions of foreign arthouse toons, including Ignacio Ferreras’ “Wrinkles,” Jean-Francois Laguionie’s “Le Tableau,” Hiroyuki Okiura’s “A Letter to Momo,” and Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s “The Secret of Kells” — all of which are playing in various sections at Annecy.

GKids also scored Oscar nominations this year with “Chico & Rita” and “A Cat in Paris.”

The deal for “Cat” was negotiated by Greg Chambet for TF1 and Eric Beckman for

GKids; while the deal for “Zarafa” was negotiated by Saya Huddleston for Pathe Intl. and Eric Beckman for GKids.

Annecy fest closes on Saturday.

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