Cartoon Forum 2019: A Look At 6 Pitches For New European Shows
Cartoon Forum, Europe’s vast co-production platform for tv series, kicked off on Tuesday in style (and plenty of substance).
Around 1,000 badge-holders — producers, distributors, investors, broadcasters, SVOD platforms, artists, and more — have gathered in the French city of Toulouse, as they do every September, to watch studios from around the continent pitch their latest projects.
This edition, the forum’s 30th, features 85 projects from 24 countries, totaling more than 500 hours of content. These numbers represent a modest growth on previous years, speaking to the dynamism of Europe’s animation industry. I’ll report more deeply on trends at this year’s event in the coming days; for now, here are the projects that caught my eye from the first day of pitches.
Lucy Lost (France)
The project: At the start of the World War I, an 11-year-old girl washes up on the shore of the UK’s remote Scilly Islands. Having apparently lost all memory, she mutters one word — “Lucy” — before falling silent. The local community cautiously takes her in, but then rumors begin to spread about her origins.
The pitch: This was one of the slicker presentations of the day — as might be expected from production company Xilam, currently riding high on the success of its feature I Lost My Body. The series is subtly animated in 2d, with lush painterly backgrounds (a style befitting the classical story); old-world rural England is richly evoked. The high production values are reflected in the large budget. Marc du Pontavice, the studio’s CEO, confirmed that elements of the pipeline developed for I Lost My Body, such as the use of Blender to render 3d characters in a hand-drawn look, are being reused here. The source novel by Michael Morpurgo, Listen to the Moon, is beloved in the UK, though less known in continental Europe.
The questions: What we saw of the story was sober and low-key, with a nice sense of mystery but no real drama. How will Morpurgo’s narrative be broken into episodes (and unconventionally long ones at that)? Du Pontavice has described Lucy Lost as essentially a very long film — does he envision that it will be binged on a streaming platform? Also, the protagonists speak with American accents, which jars with the very parochial English setting. Will these voices be used in the final work? If so, they may rankle some viewers in the UK.
The details: 10 x 26min episodes. Xilam Animation. €12 million series budget. Family.
Some of Us (France/Canada/Latvia/Belgium)
The project: This documentary series focuses on 15 high-profile athletes who have faced discrimination on account of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Episodes weave together live-action talking heads and footage with animated sequences.
The pitch: The creators opened with a stark warning that their project, unlike most at Cartoon Forum, is not humorous in the least. That didn’t prevent some nervous tittering during the trailer, which included footage of racist chanting at a soccer game, an interview with a gay athlete, a rotoscoped scene of her walking in the street, and an animated clip showing her as a child, symbolically trying to fit a toy block into a differently shaped hole. The fleet, dynamic hand-drawn animation comes courtesy of Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo, the talented director behind the short film The Sense of Touch and the just-shorlisted Cesar contender Make It Soul. The theme, which runs across all sports, is very topical, and the project was presented with verve and patent sincerity.
The questions: Animated segments are increasingly used in live-action documentaries, often to illustrate a person’s back story or subjective experience. It looks like they’ll be deployed similarly here: Mbotti Malolo told me that they can help establish, through abstraction, the common experiences of all those who face discrimination. I’m curious to see how frequent these segments will be, and how they will add to our understanding of the athletes’ plights.
The details: 10 x 10min episodes. Bachibouzouk/DPT/Film Angels Productions/Hors Zone. Young adults/adults.
We Are Family (France)
The project: Another documentary series, We Are Family showcases a range of music genres and subgenres, explaining how each was formed out of earlier styles. Every episode focuses on a group of people who came together to create a new kind of sound.
The pitch: As Hollywood musical biopics boom, TeamTo has come up with a fun spin on the genre. By introducing turning points in pop music history, We Are Family spotlights the interconnectedness of all music (and thus, by implication, of all people and communities). The pilot recounts Aerosmith’s collaboration with Run-DMC on “Walk this Way,” a groundbreaking work of rock-rap fusion. The French studio, which also produced the “hyper-real” canine series Mighty Mike, has gone with a blocky, cartoonish cg aesthetic. This works with the retro theme, and the writers have clearly done their research (with the help of podcast Switched on Pop). Some of the featured artists — bossa nova legend João Gilberto, say — will be unknown to today’s teens; but it looks like the show will be sharp enough to engage them.
The questions: The series doesn’t use archive footage, and so lacks the thrill of seeing real stars at work. Animated characters jamming and composing tunes aren’t necessarily a thrilling sight — how will the creators keep the visuals varied and stimulating? Potential backers will also want reassurances about the music clearance fees, although the creators did say that early discussions with record labels have been “encouraging.”
The details: 52 x 5 minutes. TeamTo. 12–15 years old.
- The Ishmael’s Journeys, a family series in which a French Muslim father and daughter delve into the origins of the major world religions’ precepts. The subject is a pressing one, and it could appeal to channels with a strong educational thrust, but it seems ambitious for a run of three-minute episodes (the one presented at Cartoon Forum focus on the Koran’s position on Jews). France, 10 x 3 minutes, Les Batelières/Foliascope, family.
- Palimpsest’s Tree, an affecting series about two young brothers growing up in sub-Saharan Africa. Their grandmother provides them with spiritual guidance and lessons in local history and folklore. The project was conceived by Paris-based Togolese filmmaker Ingrid Agbo, who has looked to the African continent for co-production partners – still an unusual approach, even in the increasingly globalized animation industry. France/Burkina Faso/Togo, 52 x 7 minutes, Nebularts Productions/Tiktak Production/Pit Productions/Yobo Studios, 6–11 years old.
- Claudy, a zany comedy series by burgeoning French studio Miyu. Set in a fantasy ecosystem just above the clouds, the project stars the titular character, a cloud-like humanoid who doesn’t fit into his community. The offbeat humour and bubblegum-bright design — think Adventure Time meets Spongebob Squarepants — have charm, and there are inventive gags about jealous skyscrapers and lost kids’ balloons, but the pitch was a little overstuffed, and I was left unsure about the core themes and message. France, 52 x 11 minutes, Miyu Productions, 6–11 years old.