×

Animator enters arena for global aud

Straffi sets sights on U.S. for 3D 'Gladiators of Rome'

Having lured global eyeballs with fairies, Italian TV animation mogul Iginio Straffi is aiming to conquer American moviegoers with warriors.

“Gladiators of Rome,” a stereoscopic 3D toon made with Hollywood in mind, is scheduled to hit U.S. screens via Paramount in wide release in April 2013. The pic is part of a deal that Straffi inked last year with Viacom, which took a 30% stake in his Rainbow Studios, the outfit that has sold “The Winx Club” TV series to 130 markets around the world. “Gladiators” marks the first Italo toon to enter the U.S. mainstream.

“The deal influenced the way we made the movie,” Straffi said, as he prepared to screen a partial cut of the film for international distributors.

Straffi, who directs the film, is touting “Gladiators” as the first high-profile toon set in ancient Rome. The story turns on a lazy young gladiator-in-training who, after falling for the daughter of his instructor, must win a contest during the grand opening of the Colosseum in order to marry her.

Having Paramount onboard prompted him to have more work done on the pic’s screenplay, first penned by Michael J. Wilson (“Ice Age,” “Shark Tale”) and reworked by Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown”) in order to broaden the audience demographic by targeting some of the humor to parents. Straffi also decided to have all post-production done at Pinewood Studios in London, rather than in Italy, where it would have been cheaper by about a third. The rest of the production work was done in Italy.

“Gladiators are kind of like the popular TV wrestlers of the past,” says Straffi, “so we think young males will latch onto that, while the love story (will draw girls).”

The pic’s budget, at around $40 million, pales in comparison with Hollywood animated blockbusters. But a good deal of the film’s costs, including Straffi’s director fee, have been deferred and significantly reduced by production being done internally. Rainbow is shouldering most of the investment, thanks to its healthy profits from “Winx Club,”, especially from merchandise tie-ins.

That femme-skewed TV show, featuring six fairies, has been playing on Nickelodeon to solid ratings for a year, after airing globally. Winx dolls, which Straffi says outsell Barbie dolls in Italy and Russia, will be hitting the shelves of U.S. toy stores in late August, to be distributed by Jakks Pacific.

“Our model is to conquer new markets every year,” says Straffi, who started out in comics before becoming a storyboarder and TV toon director in the 1990s. In 1995, he started Rainbow, which is now Italy’s leading animation outfit, and among the top toon studios in Europe. The step up to the bigscreen came about because Straffi saw how few animated films were coming out of Europe (“and none in Italy,” he notes).

“Now we will be playing with the big guys, and we’ve got to do it right, because we aren’t going to get another chance like this,” the mogul says.

Last year, he launched the sprawling Rainbow MagicLand, Rome’s first theme park, which despite feeling the pinch from the country’s economic crisis, is “doing well enough,” according to Straffi.

The multihyphenate considers MagicLand a great marketing tool for “Winx” and other hit Rainbow properties. And while the park does not yet feature a “Gladiator” attraction, Straffi is hoping the film will drive demand.

More Film

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

  • Taika Waititi Returning to Direct 'Thor

    Taika Waititi to Direct Marvel's 'Thor 4'

    Taika Waititi is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi’s take on the fourth “Thor” movie puts Warner Bros.’ long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely. However, the studio hopes that “Akira” can get resume production with Waititi at the helm once [...]

  • Akira

    'Akira' Production Put on Hold by Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has put its long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely, sources tell Variety. Sources indicate that after a brief delay, the studio has pulled the plug on production indefinitely for the classic anime adaptation, which was set to begin later this fall. “Thor: Ragnarok” helmer Taika Waititi was on board to direct, and the [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content