Gallic auds embrace Chabat’s ‘Houba’

International distribs pursue comedy feature

PARIS

A decade after helming the French blockbuster “Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra,” Alain Chabat is scoring again with another comicbook-based pic, “Houba: On the Trail of the Marsupilami.”

The €40 million ($52 million) gag-laden laffer has grossed $24.4 million from 805 screens in two weeks at the Gallic B.O., outperforming Hollywood heavyweights “Titanic 3D,” “Battleship” and “Snow White.”

In Belgium and Switzerland, “Houba” has also been a hit, grossing $1.7 million on 40 prints and $1.2 million on 28 prints, respectively, since its April 4 opening.

Pathe Intl. has inked sales to Canada (Niagara Film), China (Domo Media), Russia (Volgo), Portugal (Lusomundo), Poland (ITI), Turkey (Mediavision) and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Budapest Film). A Pathe rep said the film’s B.O. success is sparking the interest of distributors in other territories, and the sales team is negotiating deals for key territories such as Spain and Germany. North American rights are still available.

Partly lensed in the Mexican jungle, the colorful live-action film is based on Belgian artist Andre Franquin’s bestselling comicbook featuring a Marsupilami, a spotted, yellow-and-black monkey-like creature.

Script, penned by Chabat and U.S. scribe Jeremy Donner, whose credits include “Heartbreaker,” centers on a French journo (Chabat) who embarks on an ill-fated journey to the Palombian jungle in South America to film a documentary that he hopes will revive his fading career. The reporter’s project is derailed by a full CGI 3D Marsupilami — created by Pierre Buffin’s vfx shingle BUF — that everyone is obsessively trying to capture.

The French-Belgian title is produced by Chabat’s banner Chez Wam and co-produced by Scope Pictures. French mini-major Pathe co-produced, distributes in Gaul and Switzerland and sells the pic worldwide. With its track record handling homegrown laffers (“Welcome to the Sticks,” “Nothing to Declare”) on a large scale, Pathe gave “Houba” strong marketing muscle. It pursued an aggressive marketing campaign across all platforms, delivering a wealth of teasers and trailers.

Michel Luel from Belgian distrib Alternative Films said his company created 12 TV spots based on Pathe’s promotional material and got the buzz rolling from December.

As Luel said, the pic owes its success to the fact that it’s not only targeting families but also teens and young adults who are familiar with the ensemble cast, made up of French film and TV stars: Chabat, Jamel Debbouze, Lambert Wilson, Fred Testot and Geraldine Nakache, among others.

“Houba” also boasts a few Farrelly brothers-style gags that spark the interest of young-adult auds.

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