Russia’s CTB Film Company, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, is set to follow its 2021 family adventure “Upon the Magic Roads” with two animated films, “The Nutcracker and the Magic Flute” and “My Sweet Monster.” The latter, scheduled for September release and already sold to several territories, including the U.S., Germany and France, will see a tantrum-prone teenage princess on the run, captured by the forest monster, whose peaceful existence is about to come to an end. As neither of them is ready to compromise, tensions run high.
“Besides the love story, there is a conflict between civilization – pictured in steampunk style – and nature. Not to mention we have a lot of comic situations between the main characters,” the company’s founder Sergey Selyanov shares with Variety ahead of the film’s presentation at the Key Buyers Event, organized by Roskino.
The same could be said about “Upon the Magic Roads,” helmed by Oleg Pogodin, which has already earned $16 million at the local box office. Based on “The Humpbacked Horse” by Pyotr Yershov, this combination of live-action and 3D CGI animation also focuses on two misfits, this time around teaming up to outsmart a Tsar, as well as overcome their own limitations.
“It was my favorite childhood book,” adds Selyanov, calling Yershov’s tale, published in 1834, a “national treasure.” “Every Russian child will recognize so many of these fantastical birds and animals, but the film also attracted the attention of international buyers. Our [protagonist] John is so kind and innocent that even his own kin mock him as ‘The Fool.’ He is a true romantic and he never pursues his own interests, which makes him incredibly charming. And his best friend, The Magic Foal, is a little humpback: he is small and not that attractive, at least not at first sight, but he has impressive magic powers.”
While the story has been adapted before, in the 1940s, Selyanov waited several years to produce the film. Moving forward once the technology caught up with his vision and enlisting the help of Channel One Russia and CGF Company along the way.
“John’s loyal sidekick enjoys a lot of screen time and it was clear from the start that he had to be hyper-realistic in order to really engage the audience. His facial expressions and mannerisms were based on the actor Pavel Derevyanko, thanks to the use of facial motion capture technology,” he says. Coming back to that elaborate universe in the future remains a possibility.
“Movies for children are really the most expensive and technologically advanced projects. But I believe that we will meet upon the magic roads in our fantasy world once again,” he says.
Both titles, as noted by Juraj Barabas, managing director of the international outfit Luminescence, already found their home in North America with Grindstone Entertainment planning to release them in 2022.
While another animated adventure by CTB Film Company and Wizart Animation, “Secret Magic Control Agency,” has already gained popularity on Netflix, and “Moonzy” reigns on YouTube, Selyanov is adamant that the company’s ambition doesn’t stop with kids’ fare. “Infiltration,” Aleksey Chadov’s thriller about the war in Syria, which he describes as a “very sensitive topic,” will be released later this year under the banner of Sony Pictures, which has become the exclusive distributor of the company’s films.
“We are among the first ones to bring this theme to the screens,” Selyanov says about the story of a man (played by Chadov himself) who sets out on a dangerous mission to rescue his ex-commander after he is captured by ISIS.
“It’s good and convenient for us to work with Sony: it’s a global brand. Thanks to the list of its productions, the company holds a great position in the market. One of our goals is to help young directors find their unique voice and make it heard by the audience, so we will never stick to just one genre. Our company’s portfolio is really diverse,” says Selyanov.