More ‘Kirikou’ kicks

Les Armateurs leads new Gallic toon wave

PARIS — Gallic production outfit Les Armateurs, which co-produced the Oscar-nominated “The Triplets of Belleville,” is preparing another episode of the surprise French animated hit “Kirikou and the Sorceress.”

“The Child Kirikou” is penned by Michel Ocelot, who wrote and directed the first “Kirikou.” Pic will be co-helmed by Ocelot and Benedicte Galup.

“Kirikou and the Sorceress” scooped several fest awards, including the grand prize at the Annecy Intl. Animated Film fest, but the pic’s success caught the industry off-guard, selling 1.5 million tickets during its theatrical release, 660,000 DVDs and 300,000 books.

Of the new film, Didier Brunner, producer and topper of Les Armateurs, said, “It’s not a sequel, but a story about Kirikou that wasn’t told in the first film and takes place before the deliverance of the Sorceress.”

Brunner said Ocelot is co-helming the toon because the director-scribe is also working on another project. Pic will have a budget of about $6 million and will see release in France at the end of 2005.

Les Armateurs, set up in 1993 as a TV production company, has spearheaded a new wave of French animation, breathing new life into a stagnant industry here. “Kirikou and the Sorceress” gave hope to other toon-minded Gauls that France could compete in the U.S.-dominated animated-feature market.

Les Armateurs is also in negotiations with “Belleville” helmer-scribe Sylvain Chomet to produce his next project, “Barbacoa.”

“It’s too early to talk about; we’re still in the discussion stage,” Brunner said.

“The Triplets of Belleville,” which has sold 850,000 tickets since its April release, has been Oscar nominated for animated film and original song.

“Frankly, we’re thrilled,” Brunner said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed, because anything can happen in this beautiful world.”

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