Aardman, Studiocanal Team on 'Shaun the

Richard Starzak, Mark Burton will write and direct

PARIS — U.K. shingle Aardman Animations and film-TV group Studiocanal, Europe’s biggest movie producer-financier, are teaming on “Shaun the Sheep,” a toonpic that marks the big-screen debut of a character first seen in Aardman’s Oscar-winning short “A Close Shave.”

Richard Starzak and Mark Burton will write and direct. Aardman produces.

Studiocanal will finance, and also distribute in U.K., France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, where it owns distribution operations. It will also handle sales to the rest of the world, bringing “Shaun” onto the market at next month’s Cannes festival.

To be shot in Aardman’s trademark stop-frame animation style and billed as an “epic adventure,” “Shaun the Sheep” sees Shaun’s mischief leading to the Farmer losing his farm and Shaun, Blitzer and the flock trekking to the big city to rescue him.

A one-off pic partnership between Aardman and Studiocanal, for the moment at least, “Shaun the Sheep” raises the question of whether it signals an end to Aardman’s financing/distribution deal with Sony.

First struck 2007, and renewed 2010, the Sony deal bankrolled the Aardman-produced “Arthur Christmas” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”

A long-term Aardman-Studiocanal alliance would certainly team the two strongest animation players in Europe.

Aardman’s animation films have consistently punched significant grosses at the box office. “The Pirates!” made $123.1 million worldwide, “Arthur Christmas” $147.4 million. Their challenge, when made with a studio, whether Sony or DreamWorks Animations before 2007, has been to gross sufficient to justify their budgets and U.S. P & A costs.

On “Shaun,” Aardman will partner with a company whose core market remains Europe. Studiocanal has also developed a knack of recouping on movies in the $20 million-$35 million range or even higher without recourse to U.S distribution for core finance or profits.

“Shaun” also marks another major step-up in Studiocanal’s drive into family entertainment. In May 2012, Studiocanal teamed with “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman on a CGI live-action movie version of British kiddie classic Paddington books.

Like Paddington, Shaun is a children’s entertainment icon. Produced by the BBC and German pubcaster WDR and first aired March 2007, the stop-motion TV series “Shaun the Sheep” has been broadcast in more than 170 countries.

Olivier Courson, Studiocanal chairman-CEO, has never hid his admiration for Aardman. According to Courson, few family features, moreover, are brought onto the indie market.

“Shaun is a character you love at first sight, whatever your age,” Courson said Thursday.

“We are naturally very excited about partnering with Studiocanal for this project,” added David Sproxton, Aardman co-founder and exec chairman.
He added, “(Studiocanal’s) track record and expertise in international film financing and distribution seems a perfect fit.”

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