Cartoon Movie, the European animation sector’s flagship co-production and pitch forum, closed out its 25th edition besting pre-pandemic attendance numbers, welcoming just below 900 industry participant and noting a 40% increase in buyers. Overall, 58 feature projects were presented (and 16 countries encompassed), and — in a testament to France’s robust animation ecosystem — Gallic outfits had a hand in nearly half of them. The forum also reflected the enduring strength of the family market, with 59% of all projects aimed at that demographic.

Here are four takeaways from this year’s session, which ran from March 7 – 9 in Bordeaux.

A Marquee Event

No film drew greater buzz than “Julián” (pictured above). Led by Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon and listing Sun Creature (Denmark), Folivari (France), Aircraft Pictures (Canada) and Wychwood Media (U.K.) as co-producers, the family title benefits from the accrued pedigree of titles like “Flee,” “The Breadwinner” and “Ernest and Celestine.” Throw in Wychwood — the banner led by “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” impresario David Yates — and you have the makings of a blockbuster development project.

While the presentation (perhaps unsurprisingly) drew top overall attendance numbers, the very project spoke to Cartoon Movie’s animating principals. A family film that doesn’t talk down to its audience, “Julián” follows a Dominican American boy and his immigrant grandmother as they make their way across Brooklyn en route to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Adapted from Jessica Love’s acclaimed picture book “Julián Is a Mermaid,” the project celebrates the nuances and new avenues of gender expression with the security afforded by an ecosystem operating at full steam. “It takes this kind of European co-production to depict modern Brooklyn,” the panelist cracked onstage.

‘Moses the Pirate’ Cartoon Movie

Buzz Begets Buzz

Winner (alongside a number of co-production partners) of the Producer of the Year prize for “No Dogs or Italians Allowed,” French studio Foliascope also boasted this year’s most popular presentation. Inspiring welcome comparisons to the work of Mamoru Hosoda, Foliascope’s 2D-styled “Back to Tomioka” also drew the highest number of buyers. Meanwhile, director Sébastien Laudenbach pulled double duty, introducing his nearly finished “Chicken for Linda!” on one day, before pitching his follow-up, “Love Is a Gypsy Child — A Carmen Story,” the next. Dazzled reaction to the former no doubt drew turnout for the latter.

Buyers of a different sort were particular bullish on German family title “Moses the Pirate.” Brought to sea by Letterbox and Ulysses Filmproduktion and rendered in polished 3D, the film follows a preteen lass turned fearsome swashbuckler and seems primed for commercial plunder.

Keeping Up With the Zeitgeist

Per Cartoon Movie stats, 21% of this year’s projects tackled contemporary issues, ranging from queer representation to social inclusion to those ever-present (and ever growing) ecological concerns. Aimed at adults, the 2D comedy “Jim Queen” takes viewers on an irreverent tour of Gay Paris, drawing laughter at the presentation and lasting chatter thereafter, while the 3D family title “The Legend of Magnus the Good” introduces a young Viking who discovers his personal Valkyries in a trio of time-travelling drag queens. Titles like “Alpha Two’s Dreamed Journey” and “Birds Don’t Look Back” use young female protagonists to explore refugee narratives, while “Otis” and “Back to Tomioka” both channel environmental dystopia — one in a distant sci-fi future, and one in the recent fallout of post Fukushima Japan.     

Of course following the zeitgeist can sometimes lead to uncomfortable ends, as was the case at this year’s closing press conference, when a delegation of Ukrainian talent challenged Cartoon Movie’s Annick Maes for welcoming Russian buyers. If Maes defended the inclusion in plain mercantile logic — the wider industry stands to benefit from more investment, not less — the testy exchange rather ironically underscored her earlier point: For good or ill, animation is deeply entwined with the causes and conflicts of the present day.

‘Back to Tomioka’

Speak Your Truth

Irrespective of genre, format, or intended audience, presenters at this year’s forum often stressed the personal, even autobiographical, nature of their pitch projects. If the rhetoric technique helped ground presentations as varied as the 3D fantasy “Ninn” — about a portal to an enchanted realm found in the Parisian metro — to the 2D tearjerker “Betty’s Dream” — which follows a teen struggling to connect with a severely disabled sibling — the device found its most potent expression with “Cursed Children.”

Bolivian filmmaker Matisse Gonzalez claimed this year’s most effusive reaction as she detailed her magical realist family saga, which follows the cursed legacy of a clan intimately connected to dictatorship, and which springs – surprise, surprise – from her own tortured family history. Confronting the weight of personal inheritance and national trauma with a style and tone inspired by the dark whimsy of “Adventure Time,” the project was already on several producers’ radars before the providential pitch. Then it really took off.    

‘Cursed Children’ Cartoon Movie