After a virtual edition in 2020 and a hybrid outing last year, this week’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival looks set be back with a bang, fully and only onsite.

It also says a lot about the animation industry’s robust fundamentals. This and nine other takes on this week’s huge French animation reunion, which runs June 13—18:

Annecy’s Biggest Fest Ever

France’s Annecy Festival, the biggest event in the animation world, looks set for its largest edition ever. Accreditation numbers were heading towards a final 13,000, artistic director Marcel Jean told Variety mid-week. That compares to 2019’s then all time record of 12,500. With delegates still signing up, attendance at Annecy’s MIFA’s market was already at 4,200 Mickael Marin added Sunday. That’s a considerable feat given China and Russia are pretty well no-shows this year.

2022’s Stellar Lineup

Rarely if ever has Annecy packed so many U.S. big hitters. Netflix’s “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” from DreamWorks Animation and Walt Disney’s “Strange World” will all sneak peek new footage. NBCU-Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” Netflix’s “The Sea Beast” the first episode of HBO Max’s “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” and Nickelodeon’s short “Rock, Paper Scissors” world premiere at the fest; Walt Disney’s “Lightyear” bows at Annecy day and date with the U.S. Netflix will host a first unified Animation Showcase, Disney Television Animation, Disney Junior, and Disney EMEA Original Productions a joint press conference. Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe hold a sneak peek studio focus. These are just some details from the biggest of U.S. companies. Annecy’s schedule has never been so packed.

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Strange World Credit: Disney

So Happy to be Back

Why the record attendance and lineup? One explanation is circumstantial. Annecy’s been sorely missed. “Everybody I talked to who normally goes to Annecy is going and often bringing like a bunch of people,” says Titmouse founder-president Chris Prynoski.

“It’s the best festival worldwide for animation and in such a great location. Most people I know from the U.S. haven’t attended since 2019, so everybody wants to go to Annecy.”

“Kidscreen was pushed back to July, not everyone went to MipTV. So many buyers and sellers are basically falling back on Annecy,” says David Michel, president of Cottonwood Media, part of Federation Entertainment.

He adds: “On the creative side, many, many talents, especially young talents, haven’t been able to screen and showcase what they’ve been doing for two or three years. So everyone’s really excited to come back to Annecy.”

The Pandemic Bump

Then there’s the pandemic bump. “During the pandemic we saw obviously a huge, huge boom in animation production, generally, because they had the ability to work and create content remotely,” says David Jestaedt, Gkids  president. During the pandemic, Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation greenlit over 10 new projects across series and movies, combined Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation and broadened its strategy into theatricals, and hired nearly 1,000 artists to work to support all of their shows, said Naito.

Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation president, she will be world premiering at an Annecy presentation “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” the first short to be greenlit from Nickelodeon’s inaugural 2019 Intergalactic Shorts Program.

Now, distributors want to rev up excitement on their major shows, including big theatrical plays. “People are excited to get out and go to the movies and they’re looking for family events and we have so many movies coming out,” said Naito who at her Annecy Presentation will share a new clip of “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.”

“In recent talks, when we asked sales agents or producers what’s important for the success of their film, everyone’s saying theaters as well,” says Rodney Uhler. Gkids director of special projects. Few platforms are better for promotion than Annecy.

Industry Fundamentals

That said, Annecy double-decade growth has been extraordinary: Some 4,000 badge-holders at the turn of the century, 7,000 when Jean became artistic director in 2013, which has now nearly doubled, Jean points out. Either circumstances have played consistently in Annecy’s favor, or it feeds off robust industry fundamentals. One, most obviously, is that there are ever more buyers playing especially in the OTT space.

“Every streamer which isn’t already in the animation game pretty much wants to be in it. We’re just producing more than we’ve ever have,” said Prynoski.

Family entertainment remains a bastion of theatrical box office.

“Wide audience family features – animated adventure movies, comedies for kids and families – are doing really, really well at the box office in France. But distributors just don’t get enough pitches for commercial animated movies.” said David Michel, whose Cottonwood Media “Around The World In 80 Days,” produced with Studiocanal, was France’s biggest international box office hit in 2021. OTT traction and sometimes massive B.O. is a pretty powerful double whammy.

Buzz Titles

In highlights, Annecy 2022 should dazzle. One big question is whether any new footage of Pinnochio will merely stoke buzz that this is a forerunner for a 2023 best animated picture Academy Award. There’s good word on Kid Cudi’s “Entergalactic” and the finally coming together sci-fi fantasy movie “Nimona” – which also feature at Netflix’s Annecy Showcase. “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” and Brazil’s “Perlimps,” which has just dropped gorgeous trailer, are currying large anticipation. In Annecy competition, Alberto Vásquez’s “Unicorn Wars,” a brutal anti-war fable and Angola-set “Noyola,” look like early frontrunners. Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Most Precious of Cargoes,” Chiara Malta and Sébastien Laudenbach’s “Chicken for Linda!” and “They Shot the Piano Player,” from Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, figure among the most anticipated Annecy Works in Progress.

Netflix Scales Back

This May, Netflix announced it was scrapping a bevy of animated projects and titles in production, including “Wings of Fire,” from executive producer Ava DuVernay. With strategic timing, however, just before Annecy, the U.S. streaming giant also announced a European slate of eight animated titles, including “Ember,” Sergio Pablos’ follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “Klaus,” and “Seven Bears” from Folivari producer Didier Brunner, whose films have scored four Academy Award nominations. Netflix may be scaling back its animation. It is certainly not pulling out, however, as a potentially dazzling Annecy Showcase may well be interpreted as underscoring.

…And More Industry Tremors

Yet the industry is still barrelling from one shock to another. China, once a major force at Annecy’s MIFA market, will largely be a no-show this year. There’s war in Europe, decimating Russia’s presence. As parts of swathing budget cuts, the BBC announced late May that CBBC will morph from a broadcast to online channel. “Everyone’s flying into Annecy with thousands of projects and the truth is the distribution funnel is going to get tighter,” one producer said. “So many foundational parts of the business, how animation is sold and distributed, have changed recently,” says GKids’ Jesteadt. “Our main focus at Annecy will be just understanding from all of our partners or potential partners and content creators what their new realities are.”

The Age of IP

“It seems like the streaming services are going through a very natural ‘re-set’ phase realizing that to get strong traction, they need very strong IP, re-focusing on classic family IP, as seen in recently announced European slates.  It’s very similar to what mainstream broadcasters are looking for,” says Eléanor Coleman, Head of Pre-Sales for Blue Spirit Productions.

“One thing which is very exciting is the explosion of premium family content in series,” she says.

Adult Animation

And another, she adds, is the explosion of adult animation globally, most especially, she argues, limited series, such as Italy’s “Tear Along the Dotted Line.”

“It feels as if the marketplace is finally beginning to shift away from a kids paradigm for mainstream titles, as seen to some extent in ‘Spider Verse,’ and more so the success ‘Arcane’ and huge audiences for final season of ‘Attack on Titan’ and other adult-targeted anime,” says Gkids CEO Eric Beckman.

The U.S. is still driving the adult animation build. “It’s a really strong space of creativity for Netflix and another platforms, but it’s now spilling over into ambitious  service work for  studios offering different avenues available to get involved in the creation of adult content.,” says Coleman.

Playing in the 2D/3D Hybrid Sandpit

“We’ve found that the technique that we have developed – a hybrid 2D/3D – is really connecting with the market,” says Coleman, whose Blue Spirit Studios has just provided animation services on HBO Max’s CGI “Gremlins” prequel.

Directors these days can really mix things up, creating with CGI the painterly pictorial quality of 2D, as is reportedly the case with “Gremlins.” “In the independent world there has always been a huge range of things that people call animation from stop motion to 2D to paint and sand animation to rotoscoping to 3D used in different ways, and of course a lot of very adult fare.” says Beckman. “What’s different is that these influences are becoming more mainstream to the point the old paradigm is starting to look outdated.  People are demanding more exciting types of animation.”

The Live Action to Animation Diaspora

This excitement over animation’s artistic potential, a sense of its potential as a fully cinematic medium, comes as the live-action-to-animation diaspora continues. “More and more people directors are interested in going into animation,” Marin points out.  At Annecy, “The Most Precious of Cargoes” is the first animated feature from Academy Award winner Hazanavicius (“The Artist”). Producers as also making the move, notes MIFA director Verónique Encrenaz, who points out that Claude Barras’ “You’re Not the One I Expected” is being produced by Paris’ Sombrero Films, which comes from live action.

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