‘Miffy,’ ‘Secret’ ‘Aya’ Feature Cartoon Movie

Event is Europe's leading toon co-production forum

Pre-school toon “Miffy: the Movie,” daintily-drawn “Loulou’s Secret” and Ivory Coast-set “Aya of Yop City” are among 56 projects and pics due to be presented to producers, distributors and sales agents at the 15th Cartoon Movie.

Europe’s top animated feature co-production forum kicks off its three-day run Wednesday in Lyon, France.

Inspired by hit Dutch 3D TV series, “Miffy” turns on a baby-rabbit and her pals on a treasure hunt at the zoo. It’s a three-way Dutch co-production between Telescreen, rights-holder Mercis and pubcaster KRO Youth, with Denmark’s A Film Production and sold by 6 Sales.

Lead-produced by France’s Prima Linea (“Zarafa”), Eric Grimond’s “Secret” is one of the first features to use 2D hand-drawn computer animation via TVPaint software, said Prima Linea’s Christophe Jankovic. It has enrolled Gregoire Solotareff, whose book characters inspired the film, as artistic director — just one indication of the impact children’s publishing has on Europe’s toon pic scene.

“Aya” is an upscale, late-teen soap directed by Clement Oubrerie and Marguerite Abouet from their own graphic novels. The TF1-sold “Aya” is produced by Autochenille where Oubrerie partners with “The Rabbi’s Cat” helmer Joan Sfarr and Antoine Delesvaux.

Cartoon Movie delivers a take on the multiple moving parts of European animated feature production, as it reaches out to consolidate synergies with the vidgame sector.

The numbers of participants are up. Some 255 attended the first edition in 1999, more than 700 are expected this year plus 120 distributors, 20% up on 2012 and 60% more than 2009.

The number of movies for the rugrat crowd are also up as Europe’s growing animation sector evolves.

“After decades of Pixar, now ‘Rango’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ which are really solid movies, audiences have matured,” said Philip Einstein Lipski, at Denmark’s Einstein Film (“Ronal the Barbarian”).

“European producers, who live in a public support eco-system, are finally catching up, becoming more ambitious to at least try to make films that match the American movies in terms of story and character.”

“Feature film animation in Europe really only started with Michel Ocelot’s ‘Kirikou and the Sorceress’ about 15 years ago,” agreed Cartoon Movie general director Marc Vandeweyer.

“It’s taken 10 years to train professionals, to put everything in place — strong concepts, pacy adventure, graphics. The last two to three years have seen a quality leap in results.”

At the same time, however, production — pitched at Cartoon Movie at concept, development and production stages, and as completed films — may also be seeing a reality check.

Family fare is growing, repping 62.5% of all pics at Cartoon Movie. In contrast, 3D pics are down from 2012’s 21 to 14, French pics from 22 to 17, movies for teens, young adults and adults from 15 to 9. Total budgetary value of 2013’s movies is €303.6 million ($395.9 million), 20.5% below 2012’s figure.

In recent years, some higher-end Euro animation has underperformed in ever-tougher international pre-sales markets causing, most notably, Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp to pull out of toonpic production altogether.

Gaming, however, offers inviting, if challenging new revenue streams.

Inaugurated in 2012, Cartoon Movies’ Cartoon Games has been expanded from a half to a full day on Wednesday. Some 38 vidgame companies and 34 toon producers will attend.

Ubisoft’s Sebastien Tesserie, Rovio’s Mikko Polla and Arkane Studios’ Victor Antonov will deliver keynote speeches.

“Some European majors are starting (to create synergies),” Vandeweyer said. “But independent European producers and distributors have few ways to structure them.”

“Angry Birds” creator Rovio is already working on a 52-part “Angry Birds” animated series and game trailers.

A movie is coming to theaters in summer 2016, produced and financed by Rovio, with “Despicable Me” producer John Cohen producing and David Maisel, former Marvel Studios chair, as exec producer.

“The game business is global and can offer a wide, different kind of reach compared to movies,” Polla told Variety.

“It is not essentially about continents or nationalities; it’s about finding projects that are beneficial for all the parties and there is no fixed formula for how to achieve that.”

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