Cartoon Movie: 5 Distinctive Feature Projects For Younger Audiences
We’re rounding off our preview coverage of Cartoon Movie by looking at what the event holds for children and families.
For all the talk of the rise of adult animation, the majority of feature projects remain targeted at younger audiences. That’s true in the U.S. but also in Europe: at this year’s Cartoon Movie, less than a third of projects are categorized as “adult.”
But then animation for younger viewers is far from a monolithic category. The sheer variety of tones, visual styles, and subject matter among this year’s projects refutes any ideas that family animation is a “genre” — and challenges American animated features to become as diverse as this.
Cartoon Movie is Europe’s premier co-production forum for animated features: films in different stages of development and production are pitched to industry movers and shakers. There’s no guarantee they will ever see the light of day, but from what we’ve seen so far, we believe the five below deserve to.
Rosa and the Stone Troll
Director: Karla Holmbäck
Producer: Dansk Tegnefilm (Denmark)
Based on a book by bestselling Danish author Josefine Ottesen, this pre-school fantasy feature is still in its early stages. Going by Holmbäck’s previous work, we think it has promise. The young Danish animator and illustrator creates folksy, gentle stories for children, many of which are set on atmospheric stretches of her country’s coast; her feature seems to be cut from the same cloth.
Synopsis: Rosa is a flower fairy who always lived alone in her Rosa bush. More than anything she dreams of having a friend, but she is too scared to ever leave her bush and never found one. However, the mouse family who lives beneath the Rosa bush believe that they have the solution. Mr. and Mrs. Mouse want Rose to marry their son Karl. Rosa doesn’t want to marry a mouse, but when the mice threaten her with moving away, she feels she has to say yes to the marriage. Fortunately, Rosa is rescued before the wedding by the butterfly Silk. The two quickly become friends. When Silk is kidnapped by a Stone Troll, Rosa must finally overcome her fears of everything and venture out to save her friend.
Director: Chelo Loureiro
Producer: Abano Producións (Spain); co-producers: Antaruxa (Spain), El Gatoverde Producciones (Spain)
Status: In production
Loureiro is well established on Spain’s animation scene as a producer, with credits including Alberto Vázquez’s short Decorado and forthcoming feature Unicorn Wars. For her directorial debut, she turns to a story she co-wrote about a girl with Down’s syndrome. Even as the discourse around diversity in kids’ animation gathers steam, protagonists with disabilities remain rare. But Loureiro has stressed that she doesn’t want the disability to dominate her storyline, noting that everyone has a reason to feel different from others.
Synopsis: Valentina dreams of becoming a trapeze artist but believes she will never be able to make it because she has Down’s syndrome. Her grandmother – who teaches her to play chess and sing a lot of songs – always encourages her to never give up: If caterpillars can turn into butterflies, nothing is impossible. We must never feel disenchanted nor lose the desire to learn; look at me, I’m still determined to be an orchestra conductor one day!
But Valentina is not very convinced, she thinks that a worm is too disgusting to become a butterfly… What is this metamorphosis that Grandmother talks about like?
Director: Ugo Bienvenu
Producer: Remembers (France); co-producer: Akaba (France)
Status: In development
An alumnus of Gobelins and Calarts, Bienvenu has made his mark in both graphic novels and animation, where he has directed numerous commissioned films and characterful shorts (often with his long-time collaborator Kevin Manach). His first feature sees him in familiar territory: high-concept sci-fi with — judging by the images — a tinge of melancholy. Prominent producer Valérie Schermann, formerly of Prima Linea, is co-producing through her new outfit Akaba, alongside Bienvenu’s own Remembers.
Synopsis: What if rainbows were people from the future traveling in time? Arco, 12 years old, lives in a far future. During his first flight in his rainbow suit, he looses control and falls in the past. Iris, a little girl his age from 2075, saw him fall. She rescues him and tries by all means to send him back to his era.
Tales of the Hedgehog
Directors: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
Producer: Parmi les Lucioles Films (France); co-producer: Doghouse Films (Luxembourg)
Status: In development
Long associated with France’s Folimage studio, Felicioli and Gagnol are old hands, having directed the features Phantom Boy and the Oscar-nominated A Cat in Paris, as well as some decidedly adult shorts (their absurdist 1996 film L’Égoïste haunts us to this day). Tales of the Hedgehog has been in development for some years now; past pitches presented the story as a kind of thriller for kids. Whether or not that has changed, the project is sure to be characterful and anything but cutesy.
Synopsis: The world of 10-year-old Nina has been in turmoil since her father lost his job. Despite weeks of strike, his factory closed down. The manager had tampered with the accounts and precipitated its collapse. But rumour has it that a nest-egg remains hidden somewhere in the factory. Nina and her friend Mehdi spring into action to help Nina’s dad out. This tale of our times, which is also a coming-of-age story, stages the interaction between the concerns of children and those of adults.
Checkered Ninja 2
Directors: Anders Matthesen, Thorbjørn Christoffersen
Producer: A Film Production (Denmark); co-producers: Pop Up Production (Denmark), Sudoku ApS (Denmark)
Status: In production
This is a rare sequel in the Cartoon Movie line-up. Not just that, it’s a follow-up to a bona-fide hit: the first Checkered Ninja sold almost a million tickets in its native Denmark (the highest tally for a Danish film since the 1980s). Based once again on a book by comedian Anders Matthesen, who also co-directs, the comic caper is pitched as family entertainment, but will likely stretch the definition of the term — the first film contained jokes about cocaine and soft-core porn.
Synopsis: In Checkered Ninja 2, we again follow the boy Alex and Checkered Ninja on a frantic hunt for the villain from the first movie Phillip Eppermint. Because Eppermint manages to evade a prison sentence in Thailand, Checkered Ninja comes alive and seeks out Alex. Together, and with Alex’s entire family, they now have to go to Thailand to bust Eppermint. Alex and Checkered Ninja are swooped up into a dangerous mission, where their friendship sometimes comes under intense pressure.
As things stand, Cartoon Movie is due to be held in Bordeaux, France on March 9–11. Explore the full line-up here.
Image at top: “Arco”