High Concept Kids Series ‘The Upside Down River’ is ‘Cinema for Television’

The Upside Down River
Credit: Chloé Cruchaudet and Thomas Reteuna

A quarter of this year’s Cartoon Forum pitches are derived from existing IP and “The Upside Down River” – a high concept mini-series – is a fine example.

Based on the book “La rivière à l’envers” by award-winning French children’s author Jean-Claude Mourlevat, the 10-part fantasy adventure comes from the 10-year-old Paris-based producer-distributor Dandelooo, whose animation credits include the International Emmy-winning “The Treehouse Stories” and France 3 special “Houdini”.

Comprising 26-minute episodes and aimed at an audience of eight-to-12 year olds, “The Upside Down River” follows the adventures of Hannah, a spoiled girl mourning the death of her father who needs a drop of water from a fabled river to give her beloved pet bird eternal life.

She’s joined in her quest by a shy boy called Tomek, in an epic fantasy adventure that Dandelooo’s joint founders, Jean-Baptiste Wéry and Emmanuèle Petry describe as having “life and death themes” that do not shy away from exploring complex emotions.

For the pitch, the Dandelooo duo picked out some key scenes from the series, which is being adapted for television by Marie de Banville (“Tobie Lolness”) and Jean Regnaud (“ Ernest & Celestine”).

One involves the plucky protagonists venturing into the Forest of Oblivion which makes everyone they know forget that they ever existed – as well as making friends forget about each other; another scene involves a sea of feelings which can be stormy, icy or flat depending on the emotions of the person approaching it.

“We first thought about making this as a feature film, but the stories were so dense that a series is a better format to tell them in,” said Wéry.

The 2D computer animated series harnesses the talents of illustrators Chloé Cruchaudet  (character) and Thomas Reteuna  (backgrounds); and with a musical score by Pablo Pico, the series’ director, Paul LeLuc  (“The Wolf”, “The Long Long Holiday”) described it as “cinema for television.”

Canal Plus is the broadcaster partner but with a budget of €5.5 million ($6.5 million) the project is looking for more partners to support a French second window and pre-sales.

According to Petry, Dandelooo is aiming to start production in early 2021 “as we feel we are quite close to being ready” and a two-page summary, two scripts (in English) and seven more treatments are available as well as literary and graphic bibles.