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Straffi’s animation firm crosses borders

Rainbow targets tweens with the Winx, others

Six trendy teenage fairies collectively called the Winx, created by Italo animation mogul Iginio Straffi, have been busy fluttering their wings over the past four years bewitching millions of tween girls in more than 130 countries.

In the U.S. the MTV-generation pixies air on FoxBox and Cartoon Network.

Now the former comicbook artist, dubbed “Italy’s Walt Disney” by the local press, is spawning more seductive kiddie concoctions, for small- and bigscreen distribution, with the ambition of sparring with kiddie fare churned out by the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon.

Straffi, 41, whose Rainbow Studio is located in the small central Italian city of Loreto, has certainly capitalized on his Winx near-miracle. A global Winx Club franchise, comprising dolls, books and clothing, is going gangbusters with Winx dolls outselling Barbie in Italy. A CGI feature “Winx Club: The Secret of the Lost Kingdom” has been released to solid returns in 20 territories, and counting. The pic pulled $6 million in Italy and more than $5 million in France and Germany.

“Believe in yourself, that’s how it starts” goes the Winx Club theme song. Banal as it may sound, the words suit Straffi to a T.

“Obviously it’s not easy to make it in the global entertainment industry starting out in a small Italian town in the Marches,” says Straffi, referring to his native region on the Adriatic coast. “Many doors were slammed shut in our faces out of mere mistrust toward an Italian animation company.”

But molto brainstorming in Loreto put Straffi in synch with the pulse of young contempo auds around the planet.

Having spotted a market gap in girls’ TV toons on which buyers and licensers had gone cold, Straffi recruited fashion designers and in 2004 made the Winx a cross between the Spice Girls and Harry Potter, with an anime vibe.

“The trademark Rainbow style is a mix of Japanese manga and classic Western animation,” he says.

Since 2005 Rainbow revenues have more than quadrupled to an estimated $69 million for fiscal 2008, and a whopping $44 million net profit.

Late last year Rainbow opened an outpost in Singapore to maximize its vidgame biz and has just forged a distribution pact with Barcelona-based Motion Pictures for Spanish-language distribution.

Presently in the Rainbow pipeline is boy-skewed series “Huntik Secrets & Seekers,” which has been playing since January on the CW network, a new Winx feature for release this year, and “Versus Roma” a goofy gladiator toon for 2010 “with which we will really be entering the majors’ playing field,” Straffi predicts.

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