Aton Soumache’s On Entertainment (“Playmobil”) is allying with Joann Sfar, the revered French comicbook artist and filmmaker, on an ambitious live action mini-series inspired by French aviator and author Antoine de Saint Exupery’s 1943 philosophical and self-reflective parable “The Little Prince.”
The project, which is still at an early development stage, is being conceived as five mini-movies filled with fantasy and adventures which will mix live action and CGI in the veins of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Jungle Book,” Soumache told Variety.
On Entertainment, which is now part of Mediawan, bought a majority stake in Sfar’s company Nice Pictures, and will soon unveil its rebranding along with a slate of high-profile series and film projects.
Sfar said “The Little Prince” has played a meaningful role in his career. His 2008 adaptation of “The Little Prince” became a New York Times bestseller and allowed him to break through internationally.
“All the characters I have created, whether in ‘Le chat du Rabin’ or in ‘Little Vampire,’ are close to the ‘The Little Prince;’ for one thing they all fly,” said Sfar, adding that he’s “always been fascinated by aviators, the legends around those heroes of the sky.”
He said the idea with the mini-series was to “expand on the world of ‘The Little Prince,’ using it as a pathway to enter a wildly magical universe where imaginary creatures live and air battles unfold.” The plot will also be expanded to depict high stakes in the spirit of King Arthur’s legend and J. R. R. Tolkien’s works.
Sfar said the ambition with the mini-series was to bring his aquarelle drawings to real life thanks to a sophisticated hybrid technique weaving live action and CGI which has been used in movies like “The Jungle Book.”
“Today we have the economic and technological resources in Europe to invent legends and imaginary worlds that puts us on a equal footing with Americans,” said Sfar.
Soumache said Sfar was a “visionary artist” and a “genius.” “Sfar is already a world-renown comics creator and artist and he has the talent to become a cult filmmaker like Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro given the proper means to fulfil his dreams,” said Soumache, who is also working with Sfar on his movie “Little Vampire.” Studiocanal will release in France and is handling international sales.
On Entertainment previously adapted “The Little Prince” into an animated movie directed by Mark Osborne. The film world premiered out of competition at Cannes in 2015 and went on to travel worldwide and won a Cesar Award (France’s equivalent to the Oscar).
On Entertainment, which tapped former Studiocanal executive Rodolphe Buet last year to head the film division, will be presenting the world premiere of “Playmobil: The Movie” on opening night at the Annecy Animation Film Festival on Monday. “Playmobil” is directed by Disney veteran Lino DiSalvo, who served as head of animation on “Frozen” and as animation supervisor on “Tangled” and “Bolt.”
“I’m very moved, proud and honored to have our film ‘Playmobil’ open the Annecy Film Festival because it’s a special place, it’s there that I won the Cristal Award with “Renaissance” (Soumache’s second feature film as a producer) in 2006, and over the years I’ve been back many times,” said Soumache.
Soumache said opening Annecy marked a big accomplishment for a French production because Annecy’s opening night slot is usually given to pics from U.S. studios like Dreamworks or Pixar. “It’s a symbol underscoring the fact that today in France we can deliver high-quality, entertaining animated films for family audiences globally,” said the producer.
“Playmobil” will be released in France by Pathé in August and in the U.S. by STXfilms in November.
Beside Sfar’s “The Little Prince” mini-series, On Entertainment’s current slate also includes “Little Nicholas,” a hand-drawn animated feature based on the popular series of French children’s books from the ’60s which will be directed by Gilles de Maistre (“Mia and the White Lion”) and Amandine Fredon. “Little Nicholas” will kick off On Entertainment’s new label dedicated to arthouse animation, On Classics.
On Entertainment is also set to reteam with “Playmobil” director DiSalvo on his follow-up movie, “The Badalisc,” based an an original idea by DiSalvo and inspired by Italian folklore. The movie will tell the story of a young woman on a mission to find the truth behind the disappearance of her father.
Another upscale project on the roster of the Paris-headquartered company is “Little Jules Verne,” a CGI 3D-reimagining of the early life and inspirations of the 19th century French author known for his ground-breaking science-fiction novels such as “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Fabien Mense, a character designer and comic book author who previously worked on “Hotel Transylvania,” has been tapped to handle the visual development for the film.