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Feature Film

Hand-Drawn Feature “Aunt Hilda!” Has Opened in France

2014 is shaping up to be one of the strongest years in recent memory for quirky and original animated features. True, there’s the usual spate of sequels—Rio 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes: Fire and Rescue—but looking beyond those films, there are some genuinely fresh ideas on the horizon, most notably Laika’s The Boxtrolls, Reel FX’s Book of Life, and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea. Along with those titles, Disney is putting out one of their most un-Disney-like films ever, the Marvel-derived Big Hero 6, and of course, we’ve already had Warner Bros.’ surprisingly offbeat The LEGO Movie.

Add to the list above the hand-drawn feature Tante Hilda! (Aunt Hilda!) which opened in France a couple days ago. The Folimage film is co-directed by Benoît Chieux and Jacques-Remy Girerd, the latter of whom has directed features such as Mia and the Migoo and Raining Cats and Frogs. Girerd, who founded the studio Folimage, has publicly said that this will be the last feature he directs so that he can devote his time to producing the works of other filmmakers at his studio.

In Tante Hilda!, a hippie botanist named Hilda battles against a food-agriculture conglomerate that has invented a miraculous easy-to-grow cereal with unintended side effects. Its ecological message, a hallmark of Folimage productions, has generated controversy in French media with some critics accusing the filmmakers of indoctrinating children with an anti-GMO, anti-industrial farming agenda. Director Girerd has a more nuanced view of the film’s meaning and explains some of the story’s underpinning ideas in this Variety interview.

Message aside, the film has an exquisite hand-drawn look with loose, energetic linework, and warm, evocative watercolor backgrounds. The character designs also merit recognition: how delightfully rare it is to have a female lead in an animated feature who looks like an actual woman—pretty young girls and Barbie doll-proportioned princesses need not apply.

It doesn’t appear that Aunt Hilda! has been picked up for American distribution yet, but the film will have its North American premiere next month at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

  • Taco

    Well it’s about damn time! ~:^D I have loved every still image or clip I have seen of this so far. Can’t wait to see the full film. Vive la France!

  • Abel Sanchez

    Aunt Hilda reminds me of Joanna Quinn’s Beryl.

  • Crispy Walker

    I’ve wanted to see this SOOO badly since I found out about it. It looks beautiful. One of those directors is responsible for Mia and the Migoo, and while the story for that film is lamentable, the visuals certainly are not. This movie actually sounds like it might have a great story to go along with its beautiful inventive animation. Can’t wait to eventually see it.

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    Aunt Hilda looks a little like Madam Medusa from The Rescuers.

    • Alex

      To put it in correct perpective: Milt Kahl and the art design of Hilda were heavily influenced by Ronald Searle, yes.

  • James Madison

    This looks good. Hope to see it when it makes it’s debut in the U.S.

  • MonsieurU

    Ooops. forgot Red Turtle. That makes 4 features.

  • CG Animator

    Every time someone says “hand-drawn animation is dead”, I laugh and I point them towards France where it’s alive and kicking.

    It’s NOT dead people. Just because Disney isn’t doing it doesn’t mean no one else is.

    • Fbt

      Oh, and don’t forget Japan where hand drawn animation is more alive than ever !!

    • Matthew Litteral

      It’s just dead in America, where everything is about pushing toys.

  • jhalpernkitcat

    I hope this one gets picked up for American distribution, it looks like a lot of fun.

  • Hankenshift

    No one. She made it up. And it’s certainly not a cliche–I unless you’re sean hannity. Anyone can do all he hand drawn animation one wants right here. And the taxes are far lower.

  • Love the look. This could easily veer off into a long discussion about the U.S. State Dept. being a shill for big ag. and petro-chem, and chucking health and safety down a rat hole. Unless you’re familiar with the debate at The Hague, jingoistic comments could reveal a certain stupidity. On that note, I spent some time in France where I had regular access to a kitchen and several local food markets. The local grown food markets are terrific, and the merchants are serious about working with even a non-French speaking American who shows an honest interest in their product. I came face to face with the value that the French are trying to protect when their farmers are manning the barricades. I also found serious professionalism when buying film stock and working with a photo lab, but nothing is going to go as deep as the heritage of the food!

  • Ahmad

    I second Abel Sanchez on the resemblance of the characters design with Joanna Quinn’s work. The film has an Interesting plot, the watercolored background looks beautiful and the film’s world reminded me of the work of the great artist Jean Giraud (aka. Mœbius). My only reservation would be the animate on 3s technique! not sure its selling and what worked for Ernest et Célestine doesn’t necessarily work everywhere!

  • zoe

    About 10-15 years ago there were a handful of American celebrities who grumbled about moving to France because they disliked George W. Bush. That’s all I was thinking of, nothing specific to animators.

  • Morty

    People who need decent medical coverage.

  • Marco_Sensei

    Well… Was a nice try but… That’s a fail. A big one… Really really big fail on French Box Office. And it’s not fair. u_u

    The Film had about absolutely no publicity, was facing huge opponents like Minuscule, Sherman & Peabody, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Wind Rise….

    As a result, with 223 screens over the country (that’s not much) they got… 16.212 entries. That’s about 100.000$ gross. And they didn’t make it to the weekly Top 20. >_<'

  • Alex

    Saw it last weekend, and was positively surprised. To be honest the first 20 minutes are a bit of a slog, but the movie raises the pace gradually. It has a nice rthm and stands out from the usual ‘every 10 minutes we need a chase or action’-pace, like the disappointing Lego movie which I watched the following day.
    The animation on 3rds and the pen-drawings work quite well, and I would like to see more of it, although they might have over-used the ‘ink-blots’ on the backgrounds. This style also sets itself apart from the smooth 3d-CGI movies, I believe ‘normal’ audiences can see that this movie has been actually drawn (on paper), rather than perfectly cleaned drawings which lack that appeal.
    There are tiny details which I enjoyed, that all the characters are in their 40’s or 50’s (it doesn’t always have to be teen-protagonists to identify). The characters aren’t supposed to look very beautiful or have perfectly-shaped bodies.

    Of course, it has a fairly over-simplified message, but to be honest, I think kids might be overwhelmed with the amount of information the film presents. I saw a lot of parents talking to the kids, explaining what happens to the flowers etc, which I think is a good thing.

    What I also liked is that the movie is quite political, something that almost every animation feature lacks nowadays, not that every movie has to be political. But how many times do we have to watch the same old cookie-cutter message of ‘believe in yourself’ in animation. The western feature format is unfortunately a stagnated art form, although there have been some bright spots here and there over the years (Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir, Congress etc).
    Well, it’s pretty clear that Tante Hilda is not gonna be the blockbuster success with those limited amount of screenings even in France. I just hope that this won’t prevent Folimage to embrace this style of movies and try to push it even further.