“The Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be” by Benjamin Massoubre and Amandine Fredon is having its world premiere at a Special Screening at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20.
Several years in the making, the film brings together the world-famous French schoolboy and his creators, author René Goscinny and cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, as it goes back and forth between their world and his imaginary world.
Translated into more than 30 languages, the Little Nicholas short stories have been adapted to fiction but never to animation until now. For the creative team, it was essential to stay true both to Goscinny’s short stories and to Sempé’s drawings.
“The main challenge was to create the Little Nicholas’ world in animation and, at the same time, remain faithful to Sempé’s style – his drawings are very small, they’re made in ink, which gives them a sort of awkward but very lively energy, full of emotion. We wanted to translate that, but we needed a solid model for the animators to work on, and we had to find a compromise between this very sensitive drawing and a model that we could animate,” explains co-director Amandine Fredon.
The film takes viewers along the creative process that spawned Nicholas. The character gets to meet his creators, who tell him about their life stories.
“The whole point of the movie is to show how they created this perfect, funny and poetic world, because they went through some serious traumas in their own lives. Goscinny lost a big part of his family in the Holocaust and Sempé was abused by an alcoholic stepfather,” explains co-director Benjamin Massoubre.
“So the movie is a story of resilience about two men who were robbed of their own childhood and created the character of the Little Nicholas to relive a childhood that was stolen from them… it’s the story of two guys who chose to look on the bright side and to create comedy and poetry. It’s a feel-good, post-Covid movie,” he says.
Goscinny’s daughter Anne, who co-wrote the film’s script with Michel Fessler (“March of the Penguins”), explains how the idea of the dialogue between Little Nicholas and his creators was born: it came to her as she thought about the fact that her father died at a young age, in 1977. The character of Nicholas had already been around since the late 1950s.
The question Sempé would have asked himself at the time, she says, would have been: “Should I tell Nicholas?” When Sempé’s character does break the news to the little boy in the film, Nicholas realizes that one of his creators is gone. But he will never die because he is an immortal, fictional character.
“ ‘Now, René [Goscinny] and I will live on through you,’ Sempé tells Nicholas. That is the philosophy of the film: the creature survives its creators,” says Anne Goscinny. “I think there is no finer way to pay tribute to my father than to tell his story through the art he cherished the most: animation. The graphic novel was a path to the cinema and more precisely to animation,” she adds.
The filmmakers chose to create two contrasted animated worlds to represent, on the one hand, the real world of the authors and, on the other, the graphic universe of Nicholas.
“For the authors’ world, we drew inspiration from drawings that Sempé did for The New Yorker magazine: this allowed us to play with depth, using classic cinema codes with shadows and light, so the image is very colorful and full. The universe of Little Nicholas, on the other hand, was in black and white. So we used a few colors, but only to highlight the line of the drawing with splashes of watercolor, which gives a very poetic and light effect,” says Fredon.
Award-winning actor and director Alain Chabat, who directed the adaptation of Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra” (2002), one of France’s biggest box office hits of all time, lends his voice to Goscinny. Sempé is voiced by French actor Laurent Lafitte (“The Takedown,” “One Nation, One King,” “Elle”).
The film is co-produced by ON Entertainment president Aton Soumache (“The Little Prince,” “Upside Down”), Lilian Eche and Christel Henon’s Luxembourg-based Bidibul Productions (“Chambre 212,” “Playmobil the Movie VR Adventures”), producer Cédric Pilot (“Little Vampire”) and Align, in partnership with Canal+, Ciné+, Film Fund Luxembourg and the CNC.
The score is by Oscar-winning composer Ludovic Bourse (“The Artist”). Bac Cinema is handling sales for France. Paris-based sales agent Charades is handling worldwide sales.
“The Little Nicholas: Happy As Can Be” will be out in French cinema theaters on October 12.