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Animation Business in Scandinavia Entices Distributors Looking for Alternatives to U.S. Fare

All you need to do to measure the success of European animators is look at this year’s Oscar race: “Despicable Me 2,” co-directed by French toonsmith Pierre Coffin; and “Ernest & Celestine,” a France-Luxembourg-Belgium co-production, are nominated for animated feature, and shorts “Room on the Broom” (U.K.) and “Mr. Hublot” (Luxembourg-France) are also on the Academy score card.

But it’s Disney’s Oscar-nommed global blockbuster “Frozen” that’s tapping into one of the fastest-growing founts of global animation. Though the Mouse’s toon is U.S.-made, it cashes in on Scandinavian storytelling traditions, based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale and set in the fjords of the Arctic Circle, replete with trolls, an integral part of Scandi lore.

France and Belgium remain the leading producers of arthouse animated films, but Scandinavian toons are proving more and more appealing to independent distributors looking for an alternative to the sweeping fare backed by U.S. studios.

“Scandinavian animated films mostly target children and family audiences, and they tend to boast a more traditional, standardized graphic style that’s easier to market,” says Marc Vandeweyer, head of animation co-production forum Cartoon Movie. In that regard they compare more closely with U.S. toons than, for instance, Gallic efforts like “Persepolis” or “Waltz With Bashir,” which feature serious topics and skew older.

The Scandi animation biz traditionally has been focused on TV series, but in recent years, producers have increasingly started to look into feature-length films. In a sign of Sandinavia’s growing muscle, Europe’s premiere animation co-production event, Cartoon Movie, which runs March 5-7 in Lyon, France, will present a record 14 projects from the region.

The success of 2008 Finnish pic “The Flight Before Christmas,” a €6.1 million ($8.2 million) CGI feature that grossed nearly $22 million worldwide, launched the Nordic feature animation boom. The pic, which follows the adventures of a young reindeer, was picked it up by the Weinstein Co. for the U.S. Its sequel, the $9.6 million “Little Brother, Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure,” grossed another $22 million worldwide, including $3.3 million in China.

“ ‘The Flight Before Christmas’ opened up new perspectives for other Scandinavian producers, who realized it was possible to reach international audiences with an animated film and turn a profit,” Vandeweyer notes.

Like live-action Scandinavian movies, Nordic toons are luring foreign sales agents attracted by their crossover audience appeal and thrifty budgets. Both “The Flight Before Christmas” and “Little Brother, Big Trouble” were repped by Teuton powerhouse Global Screen, while “Moomins on the Riviera,” a high-profile Finnish animated feature based on local artist Tove Jansson’s bestselling comicstrips — and slated to debut Oct. 3 in Sweden — is repped in international markets by Nicolas Eschbach’s Paris-based Indie Sales.

Eleanor Coleman, head of animation and transmedia at Indie Sales, says that Scandinavian toons’ innovative production pipelines allow for high-quality results. “(They) make wonderful films firmly rooted in terrific storytelling, often filled with whimsy, always from a distinct perspective,” she explains.

And that certainly sounds like money in the bank.

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