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‘Playmobil’ Production Launches With U.S. Distribution in Place (EXCLUSIVE)

PARIS — Backed by Wild Bunch and Pathe, Dimitri Rassam and Aton Soumache’s Paris-based ON Animation Studios (“The Little Prince”) has launched the production of $75 million franchise-based movie “Playmobil: Robbers, Thieves & Rebels” on the heels of Toronto, where the project was snatched up by a flurry of international distributors.

Cross Creek (“Everest,” “Black Mass”) has acquired distribution rights to “Playmobil: Robbers, Thieves & Rebels” for a wide release in the U.S.

The tiny-toy movie follows Lego’s big-screen lead. “The Lego Movie” opened to a whopping $69.1 million and grossed $468.8 million worldwide last year.

Following a short story presentation at Toronto, “Playmobil: Robbers, Thieves & Rebels,” the ambitious first animated feature based on the iconic toy brand, locked pre-sales in other major territories, including Germany (Concorde), Latin America (Leda), Benelux (Belga), Switzerland (Impuls) and the Middle East (Shooting Stars).

Pathe will release the movie in France, while Vincent Maraval’s Wild Bunch handles international sales and will seal more deals at AFM in November.

Rassam told Variety that ON Animation Studios, a division of ON Entertainment, was building a movie franchise around the brand, kicking off with “Playmobil: Robbers, Thieves & Rebels” as the first opus of a trilogy.

Animation vet Bob Persichetti, who was head of story on “Puss in Boots,” “Shrek 2,” as well as “The Little Prince,” is writing and will direct the first film in the franchise.

The 40-year-old brand has sold over 2.8 billion figurines in more than 100 countries and remains one of the world’s most successful toy brands.

ON Animation Studios started developing “Playmobil” three years ago during the production of “The Little Prince,” the adaptation of Saint-Exupery’s classic novella, which premiered in Cannes and has already grossed an estimated $30 million since opening in late summer in its first batch of territories.

“Following ‘The Little Prince,’ we’re proud to bring a new cultural icon to the screen,” Rassam said. “These figurines have sparked the imagination and creativity of generations of kids worldwide. We are very excited to work with Bob on creating a great adventure in the world of Playmobil.”

“Playmobil has conquered children’s hearts worldwide, growing beyond cultural and language barriers,” added Moritz Borman. “Animation is the perfect medium to pay tribute to this cult toy and we’re very excited to launch this franchise.”

With Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp out of the toon business, ON Entertainment is the only indie player in France — and one of the few in Europe — able to finance an animated project of that scale without a U.S. studio, and launch a global franchise that can rival American blockbusters in terms of animation process, storytelling and designs. On “The Little Prince,” Rassam also managed to assemble a top-notched voice cast led by Rachel McAdams, Benicio Del Toro and Marion Cotillard.

“The Little Prince” has ranked No. 1 in France, Brazil and Poland. It will next be released across more than 50 markets, including China, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Italy before the end of the year.

“Playmobil: Robbers, Thieves & Rebels” is produced by ON Animation Studios and Pathé. Germany’s Krautpack, whose credits include Oliver Stone’s upcoming “Snowden” movie is co-producing. Rassam, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb, Moritz Borman and Axel von Maydell are producing.

As with “The Little Prince,” production services for “Playmobil” will be handled in Canada.

Delivery is expected in mid-2018 for a worldwide release at the end of 2018.

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