Folivari, Studiocanal Link on ‘Ernest & Celestine’ Sequel, ‘Samsam’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Wild Bunch boards ‘Summit of the Gods,’ from Julianne Films and Folivari

The Big Bad Fox
Copyright: Folivari

ANNECY, France — Didier Brunner’s Folivari and Studiocanal, two of Europe’s major animation forces, have signed a joint development deal for a sequel to the Academy Award nominated “Ernest & Celestine,” as Studiocanal has also boarded “SamSam, the Smallest of the Great Heroes,” produced by Dandelooo and Folivari.

Both deals would see the titles, when they move into production, being sold internationally and distributed domestically in France by Studiocanal, a Folivari-Studiocanal arrangement already in place for the anticipated “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” an anticipated animated feature that world premieres at this year’s Annecy Festival.

In a separate move for Brunner whose movies – which take in “The Secret of Kells,” Michel Ocelot’s “Kirikou” trilogy and “Belleville Rendez-Vous” – have scored five Academy nominations – Wild Bunch has boarded “The Summit of the Gods,” handling international sales and domestic distribution in France. Adapting a celebrated manga series illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, the big climb animated feature which looks to expand the boundaries of animation, is lead-produced by Jean-Charles Ostorero’s Julianne Films in co-production with Folivari.

With six animated features in development, production or co-production, and a parallel TV production line which includes “Ernest & Celestine, The Collection,” “Samsam” and now “Stinky Dog,” the Brunners – Didier and son Damien – have built up Paris-based Folivari in the space of three years into a formidable force on the upscale European animation scene.

In an animation business where it costs money, huge effort and success to create a brand new but well-known intellectual property, a second “Ernest & Celestine” movie sees Folivari and Studiocanal effectively enter the franchise business with  Ernest, a gruff but golden-hearted bear, and his best friend, Celestine, a spirited mouse.

The development also marks a further strengthening of the relationship between Studiocanal and another key animation company in Europe as the Vivendi company pursues its “Paddington” franchise with David Heyman and production alliance with Aardman Animations.

Lit by the warm glow of a bias-breaking relationship and its 2D aquarelle style palette, the original 2012 “Ernest & Celestine,” saw the two creatures brave the wrath of local bear and mice communities alike with their friendship.

Scoring a 96% positive critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it notched up 1.3 million cinema-theater ticket sales in France – about $9.4 million in gross box office, very good box office for a non-3D CGI animation movie, Brunner commented. It was also very successful on DVD, he added.

In the second movie, Celestine becomes curious about Ernest’s origins. Together, Ernest and Celestine set off for Charabia, where Ernest grew up, visit his oldest, childhood friend and have an adventure in Ernest’s homeland.

The new film will have the same techniques as the TV series, Brunner said: Character modeling in 3D and rendering in 2D animation.

“Samsam, The Smallest of the Great Heroes,” on which Folivari is in negotiations for Studiocanal to also co-produce the feature, already enjoys the popularity of two TV seasons broadcast on French TV channel Gulli. Introduced at 2016’s Cartoon Movie and targeting tiny tots, the movie turns on the same character, Samsam, a weeny superhero who battles to rescue his pen-friend Daisy, who gets kidnapped, and convert the maudlin Gloomies into Grinnies. Directed by Tanguy de Kermel, with animation provided by Mac Guff, “Samsam” is written by Jean Regnaud, who penned “Ernest & Celestine, The Collection.” Production will commence before the end of the year, with the aim of delivery in late 2019, Brunner said. The movie will be made in parallel with a Season 3 of the TV series, produced by Bayard and Folivari, he added.

Turning on two Japanese climbers who attempt the impossible, to scale Everest in winter without oxygen, “The Summit of the Gods” adapts a celebrated manga series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Japan’s Jiro Taniguchi who died this February, causing Guillermo del Toro to tweet that “Taniguchi was a manga poet. The Kieslowski of the page. A serene, profound observer of the world.”

Brunner said that, to celebrate Taniguchi, “The Summit of the Gods’ would be “really in 2D, the closest to his design.”

Conrad Anker, who scaled Meru, a Himalayan peak thought impossible to climb, as recorded in the Sundance-prized documentary “Meru,” is willing to act as a technical consultant on “The Summit of the Gods.”

Animated comedy TV series “Stinky Dog,” now in development, turns on two street dogs and a flat cat. “The stinky dog is a little stupid, but always right in his premonitions. He has great instinct, if little intelligence,” Brunner observed. Headed by Jean-Baptiste Wery, Emmanuelle Petry Sirvin and Cedric Babouche, Dandelooo, which already distributed the 26-part “Ernest & Celestine: The Collection,” will lead-produce with Folivari and France Televisions. They are currently making a teaser, six scripts and a graphic bible. Jean Regnaud (“Ernest & Celestine, The Collection”) and Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier, directors of “Ernest & Celestine,” are writing.

“Co-production is a way of making many productions and sharing the work, making it lighter,” Brunner said. Folivari’s ambition is to make one animated feature a year, and to work on “singular or original” TV productions, such as “Stinky Dog,” or “Ernest & Celestine, The Collection,” he added.

His ambition remains, as at Les Armateurs, which he ran from 1994 to 2014, to make “high-quality films and TV with directors who bring an auteurist direction,” he went on.

World premiering Thursday as a special event at Annecy, “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” on which word is good, marks Benjamin Renner’s follow-up to “Ernest & Celestine,” adapting his comic-books: “The Big Bad Fox,” “A Baby To Deliver” and “Saving Christmas,” featuring a weedy fox, a cack-handed rabbit, a naive duck and a eminently practical pig.

“It’s a very, very funny film. It’s like candies, great entertainment. I’m sure it will work with children,” Brunner said.

In other news, Haut et Court, the prestigious French producer-distributor, has boarded “Pachamama” and will distribute the film in France, where, among animation titles, it has released “Song of the Sea” and “Yellowbird.” Simon Crowe’s SC Films has acquired international sales rights to the Inca-period set adventure, “the first animation film ever made about the Conquest of America, as seen from the point of view of the natives,” said its director, Argentina’s Juan Antin (“Mercano”).

Producers are now Folivari, O2B Films, Doghouse Films (Luxembourg) and Canada’s Kaïbou Productions, which co-produced “The Little Prince,” and Blue Spirit Studio and Haut Et Court Distribution.

The awaited “My Family and the Wolf,” to be directed by Adrian Garcia from Headless, which handled the animation sequences on J.A. Bayona’s “A Monster Calls,” is now casting. An 85%-90% live-action feature, with the wolf in CGI, it is scheduled to go into production in the summer of 2018, produced by Christine Ponzevera’s Paris-based Nectarious Films and Folivari. It is backed by avance sur recettes seed money from France’s CNC film agency. The cast will most probably be mainly French, Brunner said. The producers are also carrying out location work for a coast-set shoot.

At Bordeaux’s Cartoon Movie in March, Folivari presented “The Nazis, My Father and Me,” which now has a completed screenplay and trailer and aims to initiate production first half 2018.