Cartoon Forum, Europe’s vast co-production platform for tv series, continued on Wednesday in Toulouse, France, with dozens of studio pitches for new series projects.
A group of roughly 1,000 attendees, comprised of producers, distributors, investors, broadcasters, SVOD platforms, artists, and more, are watching the pitches, hoping to find the next big thing in series animation. Since 1990, Cartoon Forum has helped over 780 European series obtain financing worth 2.7 billion euros.
Here are my highlights from the the second day of pitches (a round-up of pitches I saw on day one can be found here). The fact that they are almost all French is partly down to a quirk of my scheduling, but it also reflects the country’s dominance at Cartoon Forum and in the European industry generally. Of the 85 projects pitched this year, 26 feature a French production partner; next comes Belgium, with nine.
The project: Three children spend their free time playing, daydreaming, and exploring their environment — mostly without speaking. One of them, Noa, is deaf, and the trio communicate in ways accessible to them all.
The pitch: This striking series explicitly addresses deaf children, but without a shade of tokenism. Speaking to a packed room, the producers made a strong case for why regular kids’ shows can exclude deaf children (for one thing, they can’t always keep up with subtitles). Hence the accent in Truths on dialogue-free narratives. But nor is Noa’s condition problematized into a theme: the fact that she’s deaf was only revealed some way into the pitch, almost as an aside. With its pared-back palette and simple lines, the design evokes Franco-Belgian comics. Les Fées Spéciales has worked on high-profile projects like Michel Ocelot’s feature Dilili in Paris, but Truths is the studio’s first original work in its four-year history.
The questions: Will Truths manage to communicate its inclusive message — to all children, not just deaf ones — without laying it on thick? Will it hold together without the crutch of traditional dialogue? Certainly, the teaser displayed the kind of visual ingenuity the series will need to engage its audience.
The details: 26 x 2-min-5-sec episodes. Les Fées Spéciales. 6–9 years old.
Le Collège Noir (France)
The project: Stuck in a remote French boarding school for the summer, a group of young teens come face to face with all kinds of freaky beasts and demons. Is this their imagination — or something about the school itself?
The pitch: Le Collège Noir has a fine pedigree in France. It’s based on the successful eponymous comic strip by Ulysse Malassagne, who drew inspiration for the stories from his childhood in the rural Cantal region. It shows: more than any other project I’ve seen at Cartoon Forum, this one conveys the sense of a rich narrative world, complete with finely detailed 2d draughtsmanship. The series also tackles the perennial theme of kids’ anxieties from surprising angles: in one scene, a girl is assailed by scary monsters in what turns out to be a bout of sleep paralysis. This was a very polished presentation — which may be due to Studio La Cachette’s experience working with big U.S. outlets like Netflix (Love, Death & Robots) and Adult Swim (Primal).
The questions: If the world felt fully realized, I can’t say the same of all the characters. The protagonist, Ulysse, is an avatar for Malassagne himself, but others come across as stock characters from an on-trend kids’ series: the boy “who likes everything digital and hi-tech,” the girl “who’ll pursue her career at all costs.” Parts of the presentation, like the sleep paralysis scene, hinted at more sophisticated characterization — will the series bear this out?
The details: 26 x 13min episodes. Studio La Cachette/Milan Presse/Bayard Jeunesse Animation. €8.5–€10 million. 12–15 years old.
The project: Martha Jane grew up in total freedom on the American frontier. But when her father suddenly leaves her with an austere pioneer leader, the 12-year-old finds her world turned upside down. Fortunately, she has wits and plenty of daring — the traits that will help her become Calamity Jane.
The pitch: Little is known about the real-life Calamity Jane’s early years, and this series fills in the blanks with a largely fictionalized origin story. It’s actually a follow-up to the forthcoming feature Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary, by the well-regarded director Remi Chayé. The film’s Flash-based animation is basically a refinement of the pipeline used on Chayé’s first feature, Long Way North, and this series appears to be made in the same way. But Chayé is not directing. The producers said they’re looking for a female series director, but were having trouble finding one: “If you know anyone, let us know.”
The questions: The series comes hot on the film’s heels, although it isn’t expected to launch until late 2021. How will the two works’ narratives tie together, and will the series elaborate on Chayé’s distinct and minimalist graphic approach.
The details: 26 x 26min episodes. Maybe Movies/2 Minutes. €7 million. 6–11 years old.
- Galaxy Camp, in which kids who get sucked into a black hole and end up in the “the funkiest camp in the galaxy.” Both the project and the pitch itself, which featured fancy dress and nasal robot voices aplenty, exuded an anarchic humor typical of Nicolas Schmerkin’s production company. The shadow of Rick and Morty loomed large, too. France, 52 x 13min, Autour de Minuit, 6–11 years old.
- Féline Dion, set in a world of anthropomorphic animals (most of them cats). The titular character is a self-regarding, social media-obsessed millennial who — to her horror — is labeled a homophobe after an incident. The project, which was pitched as a “European Bojack Horseman,” lampooned many things, from outrage culture to superhero movies, but I wasn’t sure where its focus lay. Germany, 10 x 11min, Planet Polywood, young adults/adults.