Once the Cinderella of film production, Spain’s animation output is now knocking on global market doors, boosted by the growing commitment of private broadcasters.

Enrique Gato’s Indiana Jones parody, “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” Spain’s biggest local toon hit ever ($24.8 million), marked one milestone. The film has gone on to corral $50 million-plus worldwide, and counting.
Ilion Animation Studios’ $60 million Planet 51, a Sony U.S. pickup, paved the way by scoring $105.7 million worldwide in 2010.

For crisis-beleaguered Spanish production, animation is proving to be a lifeline.

Two of Spain’s more anticipated releases — the $28.6 million-budgeted “Justin and the Knights of Valour,” produced by Antonio Banderas, and Argentinian Juan Jose Campanella’s $20 million Foosball — are animated features.

Obliged to invest 3% of annual revenues in Spanish film production, TV broadcasters will play a crucial role in this growing phenomenon.

Atresmedia Cine, the film division of DeAPlaneta’s broadcasting group Atresmedia (aka Antena 3), co-produced Planet, has partnered on Foosball and acquired “Justin”’s free-to-air TV rights.

After Tad, Mediaset Espana’s film arm Telecinco Cinema is raising the ante, developing a $11.7 million Tad sequel and producing Gato’s next, $15.6 million moon adventure “Capture the Flag,” teaming with Telefonica, Lightbox Ent., El Toro and Ikiru.

“Tad”’s success underscored the significant impact of broadcasters’ marketing campaigns, especially for toons.

With aggressive promotion, Mediaset Espana helped Paramount propel “Tad” in Spain, beating Ice Age 4 ($19.7 million), Brave ($19.1 million) and Madagascar 3 ($13.4 million).

“If broadcasters or distributors believe in Spanish toon films, they can be as profitable as Hollywood movies,” says Raul Garcia, at Los Angeles-based R&R Communications.

Toon pics boast several advantages for broadcasters.

“Animated films target family audiences, encourage merchandising and licensing, work very well in primetime,” argues Mercedes Gamero, Atresmedia Cine CEO.

Also, their reruns perform well on TV and generate still appreciable returns in Spain’s piracy-ravaged home entertainment market.

“There’s a large demand for family movies that Spanish film production does not cover,” says producer Manuel Cristobal.

Spain’s troubled B.O. market still reps significant returns, but international is building.
Blighty’s Timeless Films pre-sold “Justin” near worldwide, says exec producer Francesca Nicoll.

Deals include U.K. & Benelux (eOne), Germany (Constantin), Italy (Moviemax), CIS (Luxor), Latin America (Playarte) and China (Orange Sky Golden Harvest).

“The lack of stable financing in Spain is forcing projects and talent abroad,” Cristobal laments.

Yet animation movie production is 20 times cheaper than in the U.S., says Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois, and that allowed the $10.4 million “Tad” to be entirely produced locally.

Mediaset Espana’s strategy rolls off competitive budgets and production standards, commercial concepts and partnering with U.S. majors.

Paramount and UPI acquired “Tad” and “Foosball” for Latin America and Spain, respectively.

“Given the current B.O situation, very few indie distributors can assume the P&A risks that majors do,” Gamero says.
If Justin and Foosball catch box office fire this summer, however, says producer Jordi Gasull at El Toro, “they could consolidate a golden age for higher-end, mainstream toons from Spain.”