After having been successfully adapted into a pair of live-action movies, “Le Petit Nicolas,” based on the popular series of French children’s books from the ’60s, will be back on the big screen in an hand-drawn animated feature directed by Gilles de Maistre (“Mia and the White Lion”) and Amandine Fredon.
“Le Petit Nicolas, une enfance rêvée” (“Little Nicholas,” working title) is being produced by French animation powerhouse On Entertainment (“The Little Prince”), in co-production with Foliascope (“The Tower”), Luxembourg outfit Bidibul Productions (“A Cat in Paris”) and Canada’s Kaibou. Charades, the banner behind the Oscar-nominated “Mirai,” is handling international sales and will introduce the project (currently in pre-production) to buyers at Cannes.
“Little Nicholas” marks the first 2D animated feature undertaken by Aton Soumache at On Entertainment, whose credits include the Cannes-premiering, BAFTA-nominated “The Little Prince” and the upcoming “Playmobil: The Movie.” Foliascope is the company launched by animation veteran Pascal Le Notre, who previously co-founded Folimage and whose 2D film “A Cat in Paris” was Oscar-nominated.
Created by the author Rene Goscinny and the New Yorker illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempe, “Le Petit Nicolas” follows the adventures of a mischievous boy and his schoolmates, teacher and parents in Paris in the 1960s.
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The feature, written by Michel Fessler (“March of the Penguins”) and Anne Goscinny, the daughter of Rene and a critically acclaimed author herself, will have two narrative threads. One will follow Nicolas and his surroundings, based on the graphic novels. The other will follow the lives of Goscinny and Sempe when they created “Le Petit Nicolas” and brought the little boy to life.
The storylines intertwine as Nicholas playfully interacts with his creators. The story of “Little Nicholas” mainly takes place in Paris but will also sail to Buenos Aires or across the Atlantic through the tale of the authors’ lives.
“Goscinny was able to infuse the story with anecdotes and memories she has of her father and Sempe,” said Soumache. “Together with Michel Fessler they form a complementary duo, just like Gilles de Maistre and Amandine Fredon, and Pascal Le Notre and I. It’s about combining strengths and different animation and storytelling traditions.”
The producer said the ambition with “Little Nicholas” was to create a “touching, poetic, family-driven feature with a modern resonance, some depth and universal themes that can speak to children and adults.”
“Little Nicholas” will boast a Chinese ink-wash animation aimed at reproducing the aesthetic of Sempe’s illustrations. Soumache said the feature was in development for four years as the producers looked for the right animation process to get the desired visual style. Ultimately, they opted for traditional hand-drawing and Chinese ink wash.
Soumache will attend Cannes along with Charades to discuss the film with potential distribution partners, including a Chinese company. Charades has handled several high-profile animated features before, notably Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai” and “The Queen’s Corgi.”
“We dived into this project after seeing the first animated sketches and were blown away completely by them,” said Pierre Mazars, co-founder of Charades. “The property of ‘Le Petit Nicolas’ is very popular internationally, and it fulfills our mandate to bring out quality movies that appeal to a wide audience.”
Part of Mediawan, On Entertainment recently acquired the revered French illustrator/author Joann Sfar’s production company Nice Pictures (“The Rabbi’s Cat,” “Little Vampire”). On Entertainment is also launching a label dedicated to arthouse animation, On Classics, which will kick off with the upcoming production of “Little Nicholas.”