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European Producers Prove That Mature Animated Features Are Possible At Cartoon Movie

Want a view of where feature animation is headed? Look no further than Cartoon Movie, which is among the most important annual business events for long-form animated filmmaking.

The annual European pitching and co-production forum, now in its 18th year, will take place this year from March 2-4 in Lyon, France. Over 700 players in the animation world are expected to attend.

Designed to assist film producers in finding financing, co-producers, and distributors, Cartoon Movie has helped over 250 films find financing since 1999. Yesterday the organizers announced the 2016 line-up of 55 project pitches from 19 European countries.

"Funan, The New People" directed by Denis Do.
“Funan, The New People” directed by Denis Do.

In announcing the selections, Cartoon Movie’s organizers noted European feature animation’s continuing evolution into a more diverse, adult storytelling medium. For the first time ever, one-third of the event’s selected projects are aimed at a teen and/or adult audience. These films address political or sensitive subjects, ranging from child soldiers in Angola (Another Day of Life by Platige Image), Khmer Rouge in Cambodia’s years (Funan, The New People by Les Films d’Ici), resistance in Iran (The Siren by Les Films d’Ici), adoption (The Khmer Smile of Animalps Productions), and the civil war in Angola (Nayola by da Praça de Filmes).

Fictional adult films are also represented including a remix of Joseph Conrad’s literature that takes place in Rio de Janeiro (Heart of Darkness by Les Films d’Ici), a psychotic thriller about the confinements of reality (Mind My Gap by Studio Rosto), and a kids-in-school comedy featuring notorious dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Franco as classmates (Little Bastards by Rokyn Animation).

"Mind My Gap" directed by Rosto.
“Mind My Gap” directed by Rosto.

For Americans who are used to predigested Hollywood feature animation that looks and feels generic, it can be disorienting to see the remarkable range of story concepts and graphic styles being presented at Cartoon Movie. Below are a few more projects in various stages of development and production that caught our attention:

  • I Lost My Body, the feature debut of Jérémy Clapin (Skhizein), is an absurdist mixed-media feature about an amputated hand on a quest to reunite with its owner, a young Moroccan immigrant named Naoufel.
    "I Lost My Body" directed by Jérémy Clapin.
    “I Lost My Body” directed by Jérémy Clapin.
  • A modernized Diabolique, Domenica from Ugo Bienvenu and Kevin Manach is based on the true-life story of Domenica Guillaume, whose husbands — art dealer Paul Guillaume and architect Jean Walter — both died under suspicious circumstances. It’s described as “a tale of beauty, cruelty, deceit and murder” that explores “to what extremes art fever, greed and ruthless ambition bring a vulnerable soul.” An image from the project is also included at the top of this article.
    "Domenica" directed by Ugo Bienvenu and Kevin Manach.
    “Domenica” directed by Ugo Bienvenu and Kevin Manach.
  • Mutafukaz, the highly anticipated hyperviolent team-up between France’s Ankama and Japan’s Studio 4°C and Ankama based on Guillaume “Run” Renard’s popular comic series.
    "Mutafukaz" directed by Guillaume Renard and Shojiro Nishimi.
    “Mutafukaz” directed by Guillaume Renard and Shojiro Nishimi.
  • Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs, the feature directorial debut of Latvian director Edmunds Jansons (Choir Tour), about a young boy who teams up wtih a horde of talking homeless dogs to save a city neighborhood from being turned into glass skyscrapers by a rich developer, Lord Pie.
    "Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs" directed by Edmunds Jansons.
    “Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs” directed by Edmunds Jansons.
  • The Fantastic Voyage of Marona, a new film from Romanian director Anca Damian (Crulic: The Path to Beyond, Magic Mountain) about an injured dog’s memories of all the different masters she’s loved unconditionally.
    "The Fantastic Voyage of Marona" directed by Anca Damian.
    “The Fantastic Voyage of Marona” directed by Anca Damian.
  • Tulip, from the Oscar-nominated directorial team of Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli (A Cat in Paris, Phantom Boy), about a little girl who has the ability to see the mysterious and invisible creatures with whom we share our lives and emotions.
    "Tulip" directed by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli.
    “Tulip” directed by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli.
  • Mike Mort’s Night of the Trampires is a campy stop-motion buddy cop film starring grizzled lone wolf cop Chuck Steel and vampire hunter Abraham Van Rental who team up to find an ancient race of drunken vampires (Trampires) that only attack inebriated citizens.
    "Night of the Trampires" directed by Mike Mort.
    “Night of the Trampires” directed by Mike Mort.

Projects are presented in four general stages at Cartoon Movie: in concept, in development, in production, and completed sneak previews. The pitching sessions, where filmmakers present the ideas to potential co-producers and distributors, are the core element of the event. Each team has a set amount of time to pitch, from 10 minutes for projects in concept up to 30 minutes for films in production.

France leads the number of pitches with 18 projects, followed by Denmark and Germany with five apiece, and Italy, Netherlands, and Poland with three each. Eight projects are being presented from Nordic countries. For the first time, Cartoon Movie will present a Canadian project — Ricardo Curtis’s Amoeba from House of Cool.

To learn more about all 55 projects, visit the Cartoon Movie website. Below are a few more images from the 2016 Cartoon Movie selections.

"Nayola" directed by José Miguel Ribeiro and Jorge António.
“Nayola” directed by José Miguel Ribeiro and Jorge António.
"The Siren" directed by Sepideh Farsi.
“The Siren” directed by Sepideh Farsi.
"Spirit Seeker" directed by Bo Juhl Nielsen.
“Spirit Seeker” directed by Bo Juhl Nielsen.
"Heart of Darkness" directed by Rogério Nunes.
“Heart of Darkness” directed by Rogério Nunes.
"Amoeba" directed by Ricardo Curtis.
“Amoeba” directed by Ricardo Curtis.
  • Patrice Jean-Baptiste

    “For Americans who are used to predigested Hollywood feature animation that looks and feels generic, it can be disorienting to see the remarkable range of story concepts and graphic styles being presented at Cartoon Movie.”

    That line sounded completely insulting and pretentious, and yet I %1000 agree. unsure emoticon

    • Fried

      Because stylistic things risk alienating mainstream go-ers. Just because you, an art or artist enthusiast, enjoys more animation in a painted style with a slower framerate or stylized characters doesn’t mean general movie go-ers will. There’s a reason why generic is mainstream and stylized is niche. Studios didn’t create these stigmas, they’re just following what people have done willingly.

      Also we’ve known as far back as Fritz the Cat that “adult animation” is possible. It’s just not profitable. And for some reason, people continue to think the two words are homogeneous.

      I don’t know why people can’t be satisfied with these films existing. They need to exist AND be made by big companies like Disney and Dreamworks? Why? The fact that they exist is lovely enough and should be enjoyed as such, don’t need to make it into a pissing contest. I guess we should also be doing write-ups about how some local artists’ fine art gallery isn’t as popular as some Tumblr furry picture, or how Kingdom Hearts fanart prints sells more than some artists’ beautiful French watercolor paintings.

      • Draško Ivezić

        If film-makers and studios would never risk and make original films instead of just following what massive audience wants we would never have such film-makers as Tarantino or Wes Anderson. If all the business in the world only creates what buyers want we would never be able to have innovation in creating products that buyers need and companies like Apple or Facebook would never be able to succeed. The main reason why Hollywood became boring is a lack of bold investors who are ready to risk and therefore they always put their money on the safe products, proven to be based on something popular and familiar. I believe in animation is the same thing, more daring investment drive would create diversity and it would open market for different projects which could be as profitable as others, only takes more balls to do so.

        • Fried

          You do realize that Anderson and Tarantino are still considered niche films, right? They are also not profitable on the level that these big companies are looking for. To put it in perspective, Turbo and Inglorious Basterds made roughly around the same amount of money, yet one is considered a hit and one is considered a flop. You could pool together the profit of every single Anderson film and it would still be way less than the profit of Frozen, and that’s just the film, not even the additional merch. Do you realize how gargantuan the “big three” are?

          Throwing around “exceptions to the rule” doesn’t negate the main point.

          Also Apple and Facebook are EXTREMELY safe products that capitalize exactly on what people what and Apple takes it a step further by branding it’s own products so you can only purchase parts from them.

          None of what you said actually proved against my point.

          • Rodrigo Hobart Garcia

            I don’t know about Facebook, but Apple wasn’t always a safe product, in fact they took enormous risks before becoming a huge success. Also, about “adult animation” not being profitable, wasn’t Fritz The Cat actually a big hit?

      • ea

        Maybe if Sausage Party is successful (even though I’m not expecting a masterpiece) more studios will venture into making adult animated features. Perhaps one day we’ll get our animated Citizen Kane, The Godfather, or Pulp Fiction.

    • Fried

      Because stylistic things risk alienating mainstream go-ers. Just because you, an art or artist enthusiast, enjoys more animation in a painted style with a slower framerate or stylized characters doesn’t mean general movie go-ers will. There’s a reason why generic is mainstream and stylized is niche. Studios didn’t create these stigmas, they’re just following what people have done willingly.

      Also we’ve known as far back as Fritz the Cat that “adult animation” is possible. It’s just not profitable. And for some reason, people continue to think the two words are homogeneous.

      I don’t know why people can’t be satisfied with these films existing. They need to exist AND be made by big companies like Disney and Dreamworks? Why? The fact that they exist is lovely enough and should be enjoyed as such, don’t need to make it into a pissing contest. I guess we should also be doing write-ups about how some local artists’ fine art gallery isn’t as popular as some Tumblr furry picture, or how Kingdom Hearts fanart prints sells more than some artists’ beautiful French watercolor paintings.

  • ea

    So this is like GKIDS but aimed at an older age range? Cool, I hope those movies make them to this side of the world because I’m tired of family-friendly flicks about talking animals/creatures/objects/etc.

  • James Madison

    Good news. More diversity and more voices.

  • slowtiger

    Such a nice bunch of interesting-looking projects. Such a shame that none of them will be shown in german cinema, aside from 3 days in some underground arthouse style livingroom venues.

  • Kristine

    This is immensely cool, but I wouldn’t say these are blowing Hollywood out of the waters with its creativity. It’s awesome to see a ton of variety and how many different art styles are being expressed, but a couple of them still have a Pixar-ish look to them. Others even look like Kate Beaton artwork. Hell, Little Jules looks like Wakfu.

    It’s still awesome to see such talent and to see the European animation scene growing every year. They’ve always had some of the best animated projects around. Some of their animation projects get funded by art grants, right? Would it be smart now-a-days for American animators to pursue work overseas or is it VERY hard to get into the animation scene in France?

    • jawsnnn

      I think these look much more beautiful than anything Pixar has made till date. Don’t mistake me, I don’t think Pixar would be Pixar if it chose wildly different styles and palettes with each movie…. But I prefer these.

  • Timothy Foley

    I really really hope Mind My Gap gets some kind of limited release in North America. It’s based on an online graphic novel by the director which has been going for over a decade, which is stunningly brilliant. Rosto has also done several short films set in the same universe, and he’s an incredible filmmaker. He’s a classic genius-auteur, and I would kill to see his vision realized on a big screen for a feature-length film.

  • TheGridZOM

    I produced my indie animated feature, The Grid: Zombie Outlet Maul, last year. It’s for the “Adult Swim” crowd, and recognize that there aren’t many producers doing the same thing. Wondering how I can get it out there since the media doesn’t seem to want to shine light on “no names” even though I have some recognizable talent voicing characters.