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Cartoon Movie 2017: Five Innovative Family Films Out of Europe

A few weeks ago, we highlighted some of adult-skewing animated features that will be presented next month at Cartoon Movie in Bordeaux. But there’s also plenty of innovation among Europe’s family-oriented films, representing the continent’s desire to distinguish itself from standard Hollywood fare and put forward a new vision for feature animation.

Below, we take a look at five of the highly anticipated family/children’s-oriented features that’ll be presented at this year’s Cartoon Movie. In total, 19 countries are presenting projects at this year’s Cartoon Movie, its 19th edition. France leads the way with 17 projects, followed by Germany and Belgium with 5 apiece, the United Kingdom with 4 projects, and Netherlands, Ireland and Spain with 3 each. Also, this year, Georgia, Ukraine, and Israel will pitch projects for the first time at Cartoon Movie.

In addition, Cartoon Movie will be throwing a special spotlight on Flanders and the accomplishments of Flemish producers, who play an important role in international co-productions. The region has 22 animation production companies, including 10 that have their own in-house studios. Flemish studios and producers have played a role in major productions including The Triplets of Belleville, The Secret of Kells, and A Cat in Paris, and the region has eight selected projects this year (including 5 co-productions). The Flanders region has been involved in at least 11 animated features and 12 series between 2013-16, and has 25 features and 30 series in the pipeline over the next couple years.

Cartoon Movie is also encouraging greater collaboration between feature animation producers and the gaming industry by hosting a series of “speed-dating” sessions called Cartoon Games & Apps. Its goal is to bring together feature animation producers and transmedia/gaming professionals earlier in the process so that they can work more closely on developing authentic interactive experiences centered animated properties.

Here’s five family projects that we’re looking forward to hearing more about next month:

Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary
Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary.

Following up on his unique, and sadly overlooked, 2016 film Long Way North, director Rémi Chayé is developing another mostly-drawn animated feature with a strong female protagonist. The setting this time is switched from the North Pole to the American West of the mid-19th century, and the story is an original take on an actual historical figure, Calamity Jane. French companies Maybe Movies and Sacrebleu Productions are leading the film’s development:

1863, in the midst of a convoy heading West on its way to a better life, Martha Jane’s father gets hurt. It is she who must drive the family wagon and take care of the horses. Learning is tough and yet Martha Jane has never felt so free. And since it’s more practical for riding horses, she doesn’t hesitate to slip in trousers. It is too much boldness for Abraham, the leader of the convoy. Accused of theft, Martha has to run away. Dressed as a boy, searching for the evidence of her innocence, she discovers a world in construction where her original personality will assert itself. An adventure full of dangers and rich in encounters that will, step by step, reveal the mythical Calamity Jane.

Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary.


Kensuke’s Kingdom
Kensuke's Kingdom.

Back in 2015, Cartoon Brew revealed exclusive concept art from this project by filmmakers Kirk Hendry and Neil Boyle. Back then, the industry veterans told us that they were aiming for a mixed-media approach “using a box of tricks including hand-drawn characters, miniature landscapes, matte painting, and CG environment effects to tie it all together.” The project, based on the bestselling novel by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, is still following that vision. The companies behind Kensuke’s Kingdom are Lupus Films (U.K.), Jigsaw Films (U.K.), Melusine Productions (Luxembourg), and Spirit Base (U.K.):

A young boy Michael is taken by his family on a round-the-world sailing trip. But when a storm strikes, Michael and his dog Stella are swept overboard and washed up on a remote island. They struggle to survive, but one day Michael wakes to find fresh fish and coconut milk by his cave. He discovers his mysterious benefactor is Kensuke, a former Japanese soldier, creator of a treetop kingdom and protector of the orangutans. Slowly, communicating through drawings rather than words, Michael and Kensuke form a friendship. But something threatens to destroy the fragile world Kensuke has created. A thrilling adventure story with a poignant message that will resonate with audiences across the world.

Kensuke's Kingdom.


Princess Dragon
Princess Dragon.

Anthony Roux and Jean-Jacques Denis, directors of last year’s Dofus—Book 1: Julith return with a new 2D digital idea for children called Princess Dragon. The project, from France’s Ankama Animations, is being presented as a cross-media concept, not surprising considering that Ankama established its reputation based on its MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games):

Bristle is a little girl raised by dragons. She breathes fire, is as strong as ten men, has scales which make her change color depending on the season, and hair which is home to a whole bunch of small animals. But when her father, Dragon, has to pay the Sorcerog using his second most valuable asset, he offers her Bristle… Throwing her into an infinite sadness and forcing her to flee the family cave. Bristle then embarks on a journey to discover the world of men. Upon meeting them, she will learn the meaning of friendship, solidarity, but also greed, which seems to eat away at the King’s heart. It’s there that Bristle will earn her nickname: the “Princess Dragon.”

Princess Dragon.


Wolfwalkers
Wolfwalkers.

Two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells) continues his deep-dive into regional folklore with Wolfwalkers, a 2D digital feature that he will co-direct with Ross Stewart, the art director of Kells. Moore’s studio Cartoon Saloon will produce:

In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic and nature an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn, comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last pack. But when Robyn saves a wild native girl, Mebh, their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transforms her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.

Wolfwalkers.


Zombillenium
Zombillenium.

In 2004, we wrote of Arthur de Pins, “Here’s a name to start watching closely.” Well, a mere 13 years later, he’s got his own animated feature. The cg cel-shaded Zombillenium is based on de Pin’s graphic novel series; he co-directs with Alexis Ducord through France’s Maybe Movies and Belgium’s Belvision. A release in France is scheduled for this year:

Zombillenium, the Halloween theme park, happens to be the one place on earth where real monsters can hide in plain sight. When Hector, a human, threatens to disclose the true identity of his employees, the Vampire Park Manager has no other choice but to hire him. To see his daughter, Hector must escape from his Zombies and Werewolves coworkers.

Zombillenium.

A full list of projects that will be pitched next month at Cartoon Movie, as well as information on how to attend, can be found on the Cartoon Movie web site. Cartoon Brew will attend and report from Cartoon Movie next month.

  • This all looks great. I’m especially excited for the Wolfwalkers film. I love Tomm Moore’s work.

  • ea

    These are the only types of animated family movies I enjoy.

  • Pedro Deltell Colomer

    Wher can we see this films?

    • UsaMiKo

      They’re not films yet. Cartoon Movie is a funding event for animation production teams to go to and present their ideas so that they can get money to make the project in the future.

      • AmidAmidi

        That’s true, but also keep in mind that Cartoon Movie presents films in all stages of completion, so some films are already in production For example, Zombillenium is in production and currently scheduled to be released in France this fall.

  • Nina

    Super stoked for Wolfwalkers and Calamity. I was/am a huge fan of the blink-and-you-miss-it late ’90s cartoon The Legend of Calamity Jane , and I’m excited to see another animated take on her story.

  • UsaMiKo

    Seeing this kind of thing makes me so happy and so sad . The fact that the level of respect and confidence in animated features in Europe is so high that there’s a whole convention made for the purpose of making more of them is nothing short of astounding. However, I can’t help but feel sad in knowing something like this could probably never exist in North America.

    I once said in a comment on an article here that I thought that Klaus, Sergio Pablos upcoming feature, is probably theatrical 2d animation’s last chance at regaining popularity in North America and I stand by that. But if things like this continue to exist in Europe I don’t think we’ll have to worry about a lack of service diversity in animated features.

  • J

    These all look great.