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Exodus, Sparx fly with ‘Bunyan’

Voice cast includes Kelsey Grammer

MADRID — Following collaboration on animated feature “Igor,” to be released Stateside by The Weinstein Co via MGM Sept. 19, Los Angeles’ Exodus Film Group has reupped with Paris’ Sparx Animation Studios for CGI production on animated feature “Bunyan & Babe.”

Kelsey Grammer joined “Bunyan’s” key cast late May, voicing a dastardly property developer. Tony Bankroft (“Mulan”) also inked to co-direct with Jim Rygiel.

Sparx, which has a sister studio in Vietnam, provided character design and CGI animation for “Igor.”

On “Bunyan,” animation at Sparx will commence July. The Paris facility will handle modeling, rigging, animation, texturing, writing and special effects, Exodus prexy Max Howard confirmed at the 32nd Annecy Animation Film Festival Friday.

Howard was due to present extended excerpts from “Igor” at Annecy Friday evening.

“Bunyan,” turning on the legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan (voiced by John Goodman) and his aide Babe the Blue Ox, will be put through the Exodus-TWC multipic pact, announced last year, which sees Exodus and TWC jointly developing, producing and financing Exodus’ upcoming CGI animated film slate, with TWC distributing worldwide.

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The Exodus-Sparx deal won’t see the Paris facility handling character design this time round: given “Bunyan” is about an American folk hero, Exodus has preferred an American look for the toon pic, Howard said.

But it does reflects the changing landscape of international indie animation.

“The hardware and software we’re using now wasn’t readily available or was very expensive a few years ago,” said Howard.

Also, international outfits are ramping up on expertise.

Much Gallic know-how was on show at Annecy which, rounding into its final stretch, was busier and buzzier than past years.

A traditional platform for completed films, Annecy has opened up a key new slot for films in production, Work in Progress, which showcased three upcoming Gallic toon pics: Jerome Deschamps’ “The True Story of Puss ‘n’ Boots,” “Les Lascars,” from Albert Pereira Lazaro and Emmanuel Klotz, and Bibo Bergeron’s “A Monster in Paris.”

Produced by Millimages, “Lascars” looked, on paper at least, like it could have a large domestic B.O. impact in France.

Pic is groundbreaking by Gallic standards: a hip-hop ghetto pic with a sense of humor in tune with teens and young adults. Vincent Cassel, Diane Kruger and singer Diam lead a strong French cast. “Lascars” is based on a celebrated Canal Plus TV series, which has gone gangbusters as cell phone content.

MK2’s flagship toon pic, the classy 3-D “Puss,” is more internationally skewed, having pre-sold Spain (Wide), Korea (Yejilim Ent.) and Russia (Luxor), among major territories.

Dechamps, who plays Puss, spent some of his Tuesday presentation explaining pic’s inspirations, which include Barcelona architect Gaudi.

On Friday morning, ex-DreamWorks’ Bergeron (“Shark Tale”) presented a one-minute teaser of “Monster,” a Belle Epoque-set monster chase romp.

Produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, “Monster” boasts another high-profile French voicecast — pop idol “M” and Vanessa Paradis as a Montmartre cabaret chanteuse — dainty design and, typically for EuropaCorp, a not-inconsiderable budget in dollar terms — Euros 23 million-Euros 25 million ($35.5 million-$38.6 million). The monster will be a humungous flea, Bergeron said.

In more than budgets, animation, as Annecy underscored, now reps big business for France.

Pubcaster France Televisions revealed at a press conference Wednesday that it invested Euros23.75 million ($36.6 million) in animation last year, mostly in TV series.

The payback can be large too: a recent episode of “Foot2Rue,” grabbed a 52.3% market share for FT among 4-10 year olds.

Whether animation is great business is another matter.

France’s SPFA Union of Animation Film Producers used Annecy to voice concerns that youth programming and auds are falling on France Televisions, prompted in part by 4-10 year old viewers’ migration to thematic channels such as DTT’s Gulli.

French players, both in the public and private sector, remain hell-bent on nursing next generation animators.

The fest announced its first prizes Thursday, the theme channel Canal J’s Animation Hopes Awards, which turned on French film school student toon shorts.

“Brocofolies,” from Orly’s Georges Melies School, pulled down the Animation Hope audience award. Franz Kirchner’s “Toujours le meme cauchemar,” portraying a child’s nightmare, won the Animation Hope jury prize. Both films, like eight others, will be broadcast on the Lagardere-owned Canal J.

Annecy runs June 9-14.

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