Cartoon Movie 2005: Pitching Future Euro Toons in Potsdam

If you happened to be in Potsdam, Germany (which is about a 20-minute drive from Berlin) over the past week, you were likely to run into someone working in the feature animation business at the popular Cartoon Movie event a.k.a The Forum for European Animation Films. For the past seven years, toon creators, producers, distributors and investors have attended this well-organized event to pitch their ideas, find investors and generate interest in their upcoming animated features.

Since the creation of Cartoon Movie (supported by the Media Program of the European Union, the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, ILM, IBB, Studio Babelsberg and Media Desk Deutschland), 79 feature films have been completely financed for an amount of 420 million euros and put into production including well-known international performers such as El Cid, The Triplets of Belleville and Chicken Run.

This year’s events got a head start last Wednesday with a screening of Sprung! The Magic Roundabout, the new CG-animated feature from Film Action/SPZ Ent./Bolex Brothers Prods., which was released last month in the U.K. and in France. Directed by Jean Duval, Frank Passingham and Dave Borthwick, the colorful and very noisy production offered an updated version of the characters first introduced in the popular children’s series. Although the feature looked pricey and it had a stellar voice cast (Sir Ian McKellan, Joanna Lumley, Jim Broadbent, Kylie Minogue), many of the Cartoon Movie attendees felt the script needed some fine-tuning and the Tolkienesque plotline didn’t match the preschool characters and setting.

Thilo Graf Brothkirch and Piet De Rycker’s beautifully drawn and traditionally animated Laura’s Star proved to be a bigger hit with audiences. Produced by Rohkirch, Cartoon-Film and Warner Bros. Films GmbH, this gentle 73-minute film centers on a friendless girl whose life changes after she discovers and helps mend a falling star. Lushly painted and showcasing a beautiful score by Hans Zimmer, the movie has also been released in the U.K. and Germany. The directors were also the recipients of Cartoon Movie’s tributes, along with Magma Films’ Ralph Christians (for his dedication to the cause of Euro storytelling in animation) and France 3 Cinema (for its co-production of an average of three full-length features each year).

One of the most talked-about projects at the event was Karsten Kiilerich and Anders Mastrup’s hilarious (and packed with wonderfully foul language that would make the cast of Deadwood proud!) Terkel in Trouble. This CG-animated Danish treat chronicled a few days in the life of a young boy named Terkel. Produced by Nordisk Film Production A/S., this original toon is the kind of fresh and loud-mouthed project that gives hope to future animators everywhere.

Of course, one of the biggest draws of Cartoon Movie is to watch projects develop from simple pitches (some with only a few drawings or illustrations) to fully realized animated features. Ralph Christians of Magma, for example, is a big pro at these kind of presentations. He delivered two lovely presentations for Bug Muldoon (a tale of a gumshoe beetle) to be directed by Christian Puille, and The Ugly Duckling and Me, a CG film in production directed Karsten Kiilerich and Michael Hegner. Describing his private eye insect, Christians said, "He’s a cross between Columbo and Humphrey Bogart! He’s got two major concerns–to make sure he’s got enough to eat and that he’s not eaten himself!" Summarizing what almost all the producers in the room felt, he added, "We want to make animated films that are shown internationally."

Another artistic highlight was the presentation of director Jaques-Remy Girerd, a Cartoon Movie veteran whose previous project, La Prophetie Des Grenouilles (It’s Raining Cats and Frogs) has already been a box-office hit in his native country of France. The much-admired director presented sample scenes and drawings from his new feature, Mia et le Migou, which has a 8.4 million euro budget. The traditionally animated feature follows an eight-year-old girl who leaves her birth village to look for her father and meets a mysterious monster and strikes a friendship with a young boy from another country. "In contrast to my last movie, which was a fairy tale, Mia et le Migou is a more contemporary work which focuses on ecological issues as well as the relationships between fathers and their children."

Although Cartoon Movie is solely dedicated to European projects, one could sense that many of the producers were trying to emerge from the shadow of big American studio blockbusters such as The Incredibles and Shrek 2. Many were hoping to find financing to produce features that looked as good as the U.S. imports, but had more personal and artistic-minded stories to tell. Gerhard Hahn, the producer and writer of a charming animated feature about a little snowman titled Malmi, told the funny story of how he took his now ex-girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter to an American animated feature and was horrified to see the little girl crying at the scary images on the big screen. He noted, "She asked me, ‘Why don’t you make movies for kids who are under six years old?’, so that’s why I decided to make my movie! Americans make movies made for the largest audience number, and they call it ‘family entertainment!’" he added. "I want to make a movie that will not make a four-year-old girl cry."

A total of 50 projects were discussed and presented at this year’s Cartoon Movie. Although 60% of the features were CG-animated, traditional animation still continues to be popular with the Euro producers and creators. Marc Vendeweyer and Corinne Jenart served as the event’s managing directors. Annick Maes is the event’s general coordinator. For more info about Cartoon Movie and upcoming Cartoon events, visit www.cartoon-media.be.