Gathering for world's premiere cartoon confab, creators look for the right mix of commerce and art
Every year, scores of animated pics arrive in the market with no clear audience in mind, despite years of work and millions of dollars spent creating them. Three months ago at the Cartoon Movie co-production forum in Lyon, France, pitches included “I Lost My Body,” in which a severed hand embarks on its own adventures after a gruesome accident, and “Mice on Strike,” the story of a rodent uprising set against the dissoluton of the Soviet Union.
But who are these films for exactly?
“Looking at Europe, there are roughly two categories of animation,” says GKids prexy Eric Beckman, who distributed such specialty toons as “The Secret of Kells.” “One is a category of film like ‘House of Magic’, that is trying to be a big commercial picture along the lines of Pixar or Blue Sky.” Those can be tricky to open in the States, where family films typically require a massive advertising spend to generate sufficient awareness. “And then there are some, especially out of France, where you see the pitches and think, ‘That’s a really cool and interesting idea for a movie, but this is also a business.’ Some of the films that we love just have too narrow an audience.”
By factoring in the potential aud up front, animated productions can scale their budget accordingly. Quality matters, but when it comes to international sales, “The first appeal for an animation film is the target, and the broader the target is, the better,” says EuropaCorp sales honcho Marie-Laure Montironi. “Another thing that could help is if the movie is an adaptation from a famous book or franchise.”
In the case of EuropaCorp’s curious “The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart,” the relatively expensive €20 million ($28 million) animated rock musical existed as an album, concert and tie-in book first, but many found the cartoon tuner too creepy for kids and too cutesy for the intended young-adult target audience.
“Ernest and Celestine” producer Henri Magalon considers the teenage crowd one of the toughest to serve in animation. “They are the age where they don’t want to go see animation anymore. They’re more into movies like ‘The Hunger Games,’” he says. That poses a unique challenge for his next project, “Zombil-
lenium” (pictured), set in an amusement park staffed by real monsters.
According to Magalon, he and director Arthur de Pins consulted with marketing adviser Anne Sanchez of the Mercredi agency before production to identify a realistic target: 8-to-12-year-olds in France already familiar with the property. “It’s very important for me to keep the budget under $14 million, because then we can keep the original qualities inherent in the project,” he says. “If the budget goes too high, there are too many demands that the film be a success worldwide, and the script and art that make it special would get destroyed in the process.”