Toon Boom on Tap

By Keslassy, Elsa | Variety, September 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

Toon Boom on Tap


Keslassy, Elsa, Variety


With Gallic animation on fire in Hollywood, bizzers are scrambling for their share

In light of the smashing B.O. triumph of "Despicable Me" and its sequel, "Despicable Me 2," France's toon industry has never been so appealing to U.S. studios and TV networks, which are looking to feed their pipelines and tap into Gaul's talent pool and funding incentives.

Into this market dynamic steps the Biarritz-set TV France Intl. Rendez-Vous, organized by Mathieu Bejot. The annual event will showcase a wide range of original or franchise-based animated series projects developed by some of France's most powerful producers, in collaboration with U.S. partners.

Some major initiatives:

* Gaumont Animation bought TV rights to British author Enid Blyton's 1949 "Noddy" ("Oui-Oui" in French) franchise from DreamWorks Classics and is developing a series about the little wooden boy for pubcaster France Televisions.

* Kidvid production company Genao, owned by Lagardere, is producing two skeins, "The Chipmunks and Chipettes," based on "Alvin and the Chipmunks," and "Xiaolin Chronicles," based on "Xiaolin Showdown," in co-production with their respective American rightsholders: Ross and Janice Bagdasarian at Bagdasarian Prods, and "Xiaolin Showdown" creator Christy Hui at ActionFliks.

* Zodiak-owned Marathon Media, the outfit behind "Totally Spies" and "Gormiti," is producing "Blake and the Aliens," a comedy about a 12-year-old boy chased by alien squirrels from the future, with Nickelodeon in the U.S. and Gulli in France.

France has always been considered a toon hotspot, thanks in part to such animation schools as Les Gobelins. The fact that "Despicable Me" and its sequel were entirely made at Paris-based Illumination Mac Guff with budgets in the $70 million range and grossing $543 million and $720 million (and counting) worldwide, respectively, has only bolstered the reputation of local talent and facilities.

"The family and kids market is very competitive, so when there's a huge hit on the playing field everyone tends to take notice," says Rich Magallanes, senior VP at Nickelodeon Animation.

As Marathon Media general manager David Michel points out, "There are very few solid animation companies that are still thriving. Most are in France and Canada, and people in the industry are aware of this."

"With the development of their international channels, U.S. companies like Turner, Disney and Nickelodeon are increasingly looking to work with local producers to build content for their pipelines," says Gaumont animation topper Pierre Belaisch, an industry vet who launched Gulli, the first French youthskewed channel, in 2005.

Concurs Magallanes, "We're casting our net wide in order to stay ahead of the competition."

That's not to say that Nick and other U.S. networks aren't picky about the local producers they want to partner with. "The challenges in any co-production, especially when dealing internationally, are time and communication (as well as) language barriers and sensibilities," Magallanes says. "The benefits of working with an establishment like Marathon ultimately lie in the fact that they're a proven entertainment company that has a history of making hits for kids. …

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