Psst! Wanna Buy an European Animated Feature?

Christopher Panzner looks into the increasing amount of animated features being produced and Europe and why they are not coming to American theaters.

Corto Maltese could make some decent coin in limited theatrical release and on DVD if hyped right, plus its a recognizable franchise already. © Ellipse Programme/Imedia/ConG. All rights reserved and © 2002 Home Made Movies.

Corto Maltese could make some decent coin in limited theatrical release and on DVD if hyped right, plus its a recognizable franchise already. © Ellipse Programme/Imedia/ConG. All rights reserved and © 2002 Home Made Movies.

Theres a shiny, shiny golden opportunity to cash in on distributing European animated movies in the U.S. Just like Streamline Pictures did with manga in the late 80s and 90s (until being bought out in 1999 by Orion Pictures Corp., only recently acquired two years before by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), an enterprising American distributor like yourself could turn Europanimation into the next big thing and shake that moneymaker.

But you better move quick if Im writing about it here because now everyone knows! Psyche!

As Seen on DVD

Bidnessmen being notoriously short on patience, Ill spare you the bullskipping and cut to the chase roll titles, please: Bécassine: The Viking Treasure (Home Made Movies/Dargaud Marina-Ellipsanime), Carnivale (Terraglyph/Millimages), Charley & Mimmo (Les Armateurs), Corto Maltese (Home Made Movies), Help! Im a Fish (A Film), Kirikou and the Sorceress (Les Armateurs), Zorba and Lucky (Cecchi Gori Distribuzzione), Its Raining Cats and Frogs (Folimage), Black Mors Island (Dargaud Distribution), Little Hippo (Pomalux), The Blue Arrow (Lanterna Magica), The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear (Dansk Tegnefilm 2), The Dog, the General and the Pigeons (Roissy Films), Duck Ugly (Digital Animation Meida/Millimages/Terraglyph), Lauras Star (Rothkirch/Cartoon-Film), Terkel in Trouble (Nordisk Film Production), Prince and Princesses (Les Armateurs), Dragon Hill (Millemetros), Toto Saporo (Lanterna Magica), A Monkeys Tale (Les Films du Triangle) and Children of the Rain (Belokan).

The formula for success is to find a quality feature animated film that only need dubbing and a music remix (like Ugly Duckling and Me, above) and give it a U.S. release. © Ugly  Magma Films/A-Film/ Ulysses/ Futurikon 2005.

The formula for success is to find a quality feature animated film that only need dubbing and a music remix (like Ugly Duckling and Me, above) and give it a U.S. release. © Ugly Magma Films/A-Film/ Ulysses/ Futurikon 2005.

Well take a brief pause while you copy and paste the above paragraph into an e-mail to your lawyer. (To make it a fair fight but mostly to separate the men from the boys I intentionally omitted directors, contacts and even countries, although some are a dead geeve-a-way-o.)

Done? You get a cookie, ya hockey puck. (Don Rickles)

For the anecdote, I dont know exactly how many of the above have actually cut deals to be distributed in the United States, but Im guessing none. Wouldnt it be nice to have 21 films in your catalogue? Right now?! Theyre all finished. Quality feature animated films that only need dubbing (possibly a music remix)? Dubbing that can be paid for all or in part from European Media II (CARTOON) subsidies and done in the U.S., because the goal is to get international distribution and that cant be done without wait for it an Amayreecan dub yall, the sine qua non of U.S. distribution. And some exist in English already.

And, hey! Set up your own dubbing studio while youre at it! Gonna be more where that came from, European feature animation production is on the rise and the quality is getting better all the time. Might be an iota early, but by the time you get the 21 dubbed and to market, the next wave should be right behind my picks? The Ugly Duckling and Me (A Film), Jeckyll & Hyde (Stardust Pictures), A Town Called Panic (La Parti Production), Iqbal, Tale of a Fearless Child (Gertie) by then, you will have made your name as the go-to guy in the States for European producers. And possibly have pulled off an Akira while youre at it, like Streamline did. With the return on investment margin youd be sportin, youd then actually have some dough to cough up for a minimum guarantee or top off money or out-of-pocket production funding!

As of Annecy, the rights to the spectacular Its Raining Cats and Frogs from the awesome French studio Folimage were available © 2002 Folimage.

As of Annecy, the rights to the spectacular Its Raining Cats and Frogs from the awesome French studio Folimage were available © 2002 Folimage.

I wont separate the wheat from the chaff for ya, but my moneys on The Ugly Duckling and Me (with adequate p&A), and Corto Maltese could make you some decent coin in limited release if you hyped it right in the theaters, that is.

On DVD, its all cream. And you might even be able to inverse the paradigm and distribute in the theatres after they come out on DVD.

May as well get used to it, now: Straight-to-DVD features is the new frontier, from which the next generation of giants will emerge. Cinema is merely advertising for DVD sales anyway, so why not cut $20 million plus out of the loop and laugh all the way to the bank? Okay, theyre not up to Miyazakis standards yet, but give them time once the accountants realize its easier to make a fatter return on a $4 million DVD than a $40 million feature, the giants in waiting will be given their chance to shine and, more importantly,experiment. Thank you for that bit of world-weary wisdom Alastair Swinnerton of Corsham Ent. (U.K.).

Good Blood Lines: The available Kirikou and the Sorceress is from the same guy responsible for The Triplets of Belleville. © 1998 Les Armateurs (left) and © 2003 Sony Pictures Ent. Inc.

Good Blood Lines: The available Kirikou and the Sorceress is from the same guy responsible for The Triplets of Belleville. © 1998 Les Armateurs (left) and © 2003 Sony Pictures Ent. Inc.

A Tip in the Third

What makes me so sure of myself? I did the post-production deal on the double Oscar-nominated The Triplets of Belleville, was assoc producer on Black Mors Island, co-producer on Charley and Mimmo (distributed by Universal in France) and was also involved in The Dog, the General and the Pigeons, written by Fellini and Antonioni, writer, Tonino Guerra, and chosen for the Venice Film Festival in 2002. I defy anyone to tell me whose seen these films all traditional 2D that they couldnt go toe-to-toe with any professional, commercial, independent, 2D, Hollywood fare.

The venerable Variety, for example, called Black Mors Island a modest but solidly constructed toon cousin to Pirates of the Caribbean and Master and Commander!

As of Annecy, the rights to the spectacular Its Raining Cats and Frogs from the awesome French studio Folimage were available (gotta cut the bit where the turtles weeny is showing though hurts just to say that.) The Blue Arrow and Zorba and Lucky are marvelous films. Kirikou and the Sorceress, The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear and Prince and Princesses are all from the same guy who brought you The Triplets of Belleville (and Charley and Mimmo, BTW.)

Help! Im a Fish is pure Hollywood. Corto Maltese is a huge international publishing and merchandising franchise already. Little Hippo and Lauras Star are humble but sweet younger kid fare. Carnivale works. Some of the directors include international legends like Bernard Deyriès, Jean-François Laguionie, Jacques-Rémi Girerd, Enzo dAlo and Michel Ocelot.

Look at the scope of these films! Twenty films in a variety of genres and styles what more could you ask for? A good deal, you say? Im sure most of the above producers would jump at the chance to get distributed in the U.S. (and some of these films are already a few years old.) The giants are out there, largely unknown and unsung, paying their dues and their rent, as Miyazaki, et. al., once did, until they can get their hands on some of that Big Corporate money to make their dream film. Or else, like Plympton, Bakshi, Kricfalusi, etc., they ignore Big Corp. and make films that they want to make which, while not making them rich, do inspire the next generation of potential giants, thus truly making them giants themselves, Swinnerton swoons.

Streamline dubbed My Neighbor Totoro, Akira, Laputa - The Castle in the Sky, Warriors of the Wind, Kikis Delivery Service, Fist of the North Star, The Castle of Cagliostro, Crying Freeman and scads of others. These films were released in Japan to much fanfare but were completely unknown in the U.S. at the time, never mind the classics they are as now. Fast forward to 2003 (17 years after its creation) and Studio Ghiblis Spirited Away wins the Academy Award for best animated feature.

With its sweet tone, Lauras Star would make a great family movie for U.S. markets. © 2004 Rothkirch/Carton-Film Warner Bros. Ent. GmbH/Cometfilm GmbH/MaBo-Investitions GmbH.

With its sweet tone, Lauras Star would make a great family movie for U.S. markets. © 2004 Rothkirch/Carton-Film Warner Bros. Ent. GmbH/Cometfilm GmbH/MaBo-Investitions GmbH.

Thanks to The Triplets of Belleville, the legitimacy of European animated films has been established in the States. A Euro-niche market, properly speaking, does not presently exist in the United States, however. But thats the good news and where you come in. More or less in order: France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, Luxembourg, Ireland, England and Belgium are the happy hunting grounds of predilection, but youll want to keep an eye on Eastern Europe, like Hungary and Estonia, where the tradition goes deep. Heck, even the Commies will come to the bargaining table now!

Stand and Buy Me

Why am I telling you all this? Because I like ya, son. Why dont I do it if Im so sure? Do I look like a distributor to you? I do? Why cant Europeans sell their features in the States themselves? Beekawz zer ar zees problemzez mit der langvedj und zumtimez dere eez sum teets und azzes und zeez uhzer tings vich vould not werk in der Shtates but vich a deeztribooter kewd feex und make pretty-pretty und eet is verry fahrr und yoo poot ketchoop on eveeryzing. Change the titles, dub the voices (chances are you wont even need celebrity voices, but your call), edit, remix the music thats what Streamline did. The difference is youre unlikely to be getting death threats from otaku for the macekre (massacre, or editing original programs to suit North American tastes), like Streamlines president Carl Macek did.

And why not take a cue from the recently created ex-Miramax/Disney The Weinstein Company and do a limited release in select cities for Oscar qualification before going to DVD? Oops, just blew your chance to score theyve got $490 million burning a hole in their pocket.

Whats this? A fax from Nigeria? Some 419 films available immediately?! Cheap? Mmmm

Chris Panzner is an unapologetic provocateur and a proud sponsor of self-aggrandizement. He recently created production and distribution company Eye & Ear.

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