Cartoon Movie Freeze Frames

The Moomins and the Secret of the Comet

Directed by Maria Lindberg

If you grew up in Europe, chances are you are already under the spell of the Moomins, characters created by Finnish novelist and comic strip author Tove Jansson, which had their own puppet-animated TV series in the ’70s. The white, hippo-shaped family of trolls are back in a big way this year as they star in their own stereoscopic 3-D movie produced by Finland’s Filmkompaniet, as well as an upcoming High-Def TV series. Directed by Maria Lindberg, the new movie is titled The Moomins and the Comet Chase, and follows the adventures of Moomintroll and his family as they prepare for the crash landing of a mysterious comet in their neck of the woods.

As Filmkompaniet founder and the film’s producer Tom Carpelan points out, ‘The financial budget for the movie was around 1 million euros, but the production value budget is close to 6 million euros as many of the film’s crew work with no or nominal income towards percentage share on sales income.’

He also notes that it took his company about 15 years to get the rights for the material, but it’s been worth it because the 3-D format really serves the material well. ‘The fantastic, beautiful figures and the backgrounds leave a unique, in-depth impression,’ he says. ‘The original 2D puppet animation turns into a tangible real 3-D world. The Moomin characters are round and fluffy’and when you see the movie, you feel as if they come alive and you can touch them with your fingertips. It’s as close to hugging them as it can get!’

Carpelan hopes that the world will re-discover the beloved creatures in 2010 and that the Moomins’ profile will rise beyond their current cult status in Europe. The fact that Bj’rk and her song-writing partner Sj’n have written the movie’s haunting theme song should definitely help spread the word on the project. He adds, ‘Our movie offers an exciting storyline, beautiful world-class animation, and state-of-the-art 3-D technology. That’s why we want Moomins and the Comet Chase to be the 3-D movie of the year!’

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Eleanor’s Secret

Directed by Dominique Monfery

A charming 2D animated movie with a pro-literacy message may sound like a dream, but the creative team behind the new feature Eleanor’s Secret (Kerity, La Maison des Contes) have made it a reality worth experiencing. Directed by Dominique Monfery, the film is a French-Italian project, co-produced by Gaumont-Alphanim, La Fabrique and Lanterna Magica, which opened in France in December and will be showcased at this year’s Cartoon Movie event.

Alphanim CEO and the film’s producer Clement Calvet tells us that he fell in love with the film’s pitch when it was first presented to him by French design studio La Fabric, which originally wanted to produce it as a TV special for TF1. He recalls, ‘Originally, they planned to produced it as a TF1 TV special, but they had some trouble financing it. So they came to us with the outline of the story and some drawings, and I loved it and decided to develop it as a feature.’

Calvet tapped acclaimed director Dominique Monfery’who has worked on many Disney features and directed the 2003 Oscar-nominated Disney/Salvador Dali short Destino’to join the project they had worked together on a previous Alphanim movie, Franklin and the Turtle Lake Treasure.

The script by Anik Le Ray and Alexandre Reverend centers on a young boy called Nat who has to save the world’s fairy tale from being forgotten after his eccentric aunt Eleanor leaves his him a magical collection of books. Calvet says he was quite moved by the story. ‘I think it’s a very universal story, although the film’s design is quite unique,’ he points out. ‘Dominique is such a great talent, and although our budget was relatively small’5 million euros ($6.9 million)’we were able to make decisions quickly because we had to deal with a smaller group of people.’

Although the movie faced stiff competition from bigger titles such as James

Cameron’s Avatar and Luc Besson’s Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard, Calvet says the movie managed to find its audience. ‘We sold over 500,000 tickets and that’s pretty impressive as only 15% of French movies go beyond the 300,000 mark. We think there’s a place in the market for a movie that’s not action-driven and 3-D and is different, smaller and charming.’

Next up for Calvet and company is an animated feature based on the TV series Santapprentice, which will be a co-production with Australia’s Flying Bark. ‘We are also hoping to produce a big-budget adaptation of White Fang with Dominique Monfery directing’but that’s our long-term goal!’

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Lotte and the Moonstone Secret

Directed by Janno P’ldma and Heiki Ernits

Four years ago, Estonian writer/directors Janno P’ldma and Heiki Ernits introduced the world to an eccentric girl/cocker spaniel in a sweet 2D animated feature called Lotte from Gadgetville. This year, Lotte is back in a sequel produced by Eesti Joonisfilm (Estonia) and Rija Films (Latvia). Made for 2.9 million euros, Lotte and the Moonstone Secret took about three and a half years to complete and deliver.

As the director points out, the film continues to tell the heroine’s story with a good-natured and offbeat brand of humor. ‘We are continuing the original style which we developed with co-director Heiki Ernits,’ says P’ldma. ‘Our main character is an energetic girl/dog and her world is rich in detail, humorous and free of any sort of violence. As our previous Lotte film demonstrated, there are fortunately enough people in the world who despise violence and long to see films where problems are not resolved with guns or fists.’

P’ldma, who has also won acclaim for his animated shorts (Concert for a Carrot Pie, On the Possibility of Love), says making a feature film is much more daunting than shorter projects. ‘If you make a short aimed at the festival circuit and it doesn’t turn out well, you can excuse yourself by admitting to going overboard with experimentation,’ he suggests. ‘The audience for feature-length animated movies, especially that of children’s films, is painfully direct in their appraisals! We are trying to make our film as well as we possibly can. It remains for the audience to decide if we have succeeded in this endeavor.’

P’ldma and his team tried very hard to make the best possible sequel to the original movie, one that they could be proud of creating. He now hopes that new fans will discover the charming Lotte with this second movie, which incorporates more CG animation than the first outing. ‘We believe that anyone who likes fantasy, humor, positive attitudes and non-violence will like our new movie.’

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Yona Yona Penguin

Directed by Rintaro

Acclaimed Madhouse director Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999 and Metropolis) tackles a CG-animated feature aimed at younger viewers in Yona Yona Penguin, a technically superior and highly stylized anime, set to make a splash at Cartoon Movie this year. Written by Tomoko Konparu, the movie follows the adventures of a penguin-obsessed young girl who is drawn into a subterranean world where the residents of a troll village have to fend off the evil Emperor of Darkness.

Produced by Frenchman Denis Friedman in conjunction with Madhouse with CG and vfx provided by Def2shoot, Dynamo Pictures, Imagimax and Mikros Image, the film was released in Japan last December.

According to Friedman, who is also producing the upcoming Breakthru feature Project Chopin:The Flying Machine, the film was made for a little more than 10 million euros and took about four years to deliver. ‘The biggest challenge for us was co-producing this movie with different cultures in three different countries’Japan, France and Thailand,’ says Friedman. ‘The original story was imagined by Rintaro. I believe the movie should attract a wide audience around the world because it’s a story about friendship, the three main characters are very cute and the graphics are truly original. The movie tells a universal story with a lot of heart and soul.’

When asked about the European animation scene, Friedman is quick to point out that there are many wonderful projects in the pipeline. ‘I think we’ll see some great movies, like Project Chopin. We approach the animation style for each project depending on the director’s vision. For example, for my next movie we used a combination of live action, vfx and stop-motion animation done by the Polish team responsible for the Oscar-winning short, Peter and the Wolf. It is always the story and the director that convey the vision and the required techniques.’

Friedman says Yona Yona Penguin was probably the most difficult movie he has produced, but it’s also the project of which he’s the proudest. When asked about the benefits of attending pan-European events like Cartoon Movie, he responds, ‘The deal with the French distributor of the movie was finalized at Cartoon Movie! This whole industry is about connections.’

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Project Chopin: The Flying Machine

Directed by Adam Wyrwas, Martin Clapp and Marek Skrobecki

There may be many activities, celebrations and musical performances planned for the 200th birthday of Polish composer Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin this year, but none of them seems as impressive as the wonderful live-action/CG-animated movie co-produced by Breakthru Films and Denis Friedman Productions.

Project Chopin: The Flying Machine follows a young girl named Ana and her cousin Chip-Chip as they discover a magical flying piano which takes them on a thrilling journey across Europe in search of Ana’s father. Directed by Adam Wyrwas, Martin Clapp and Marek Skrobecki, the film is set to Chopin’s famous Etudes performed by virtuoso pianist Lang Lang, who also appears in the live-action part of the movie.

This ambitious project is animated by Breakthru Films, the same innovative London- and Warsaw-based studio that gave us the Oscar-winning 2006 short, Peter and the Wolf, which also married stop-motion animated to classical music. As associate producer Magdalena Bargiel tells us, the initial idea for the 5 million euro project was conceived in May of 2008 and the final script was drafted in February of 2009. The principal photography is set to begin this spring and delivery date for the ambitious project is the fall of 2010, with a Warsaw premiere in September.

‘There were several key challenges involved’the biggest one being the stereoscopic 3-D cinematography’add to that the visual effects required both in the stop-frame animation and the live-action segments of the film, and you have quite a lot,’ says Bargiel.

The team at Breakthru, led by founder Hugh Welchman, was approached by the Polish Minister of Culture to create an animated family film to celebrate Chopin’s 200th birthday. ‘At first, we thought about producing a dance movie, but then the director Martin Clapp came up with this idea of a flying machine quite by chance,’ explains Bargiel. ‘Now we have an imaginative adventure that goes all over the world and features music by Lang Lang, who is one of the best pianists in the world. I think our movie is perfect for family audiences everywhere. In addition, it introduces Chopin’s music to a wide audience in a very delicate and fantastical way.’

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Pet Pals and the Trail of Marco Polo

Directed by Sergio Manfio

The romantic city of Venice plays a very important role in the exciting new CG-animated feature Pet Pals: Marco Polo’s Code. The Gruppo Alcuni project, which opened in Italy in January, follows the six stars of the TV animated series as they band together to protect the city from a wicked witch who wants to destroy it. Co-produced with Spain’s Grupo Edeb’, the film was made for about 5 million euros and took about 26 months from first draft to delivery.

Director Sergio Manfio and his brother, producer Francesco Manfio, tell us that from the beginning they wanted to ‘produce a film of very high quality from an artistic and technical point of view, based on an extraordinary, original script.’ As Sergio explains, ‘This kind of statement may seem rather obvious, but in actual fact it is not that obvious at all: when we began work on the film we had the feeling that, above all in Europe, it was nearly impossible to combine these two elements.’

They began with Venice as their starting point. ‘It is in a palace, built beneath the Venice lagoon, that our Pet Pals find the ‘rooms of magi’ which will allow them to beat the evil Crow Witch, who is planning on draining the canals of the city, turning it into a town just like any other, with roads filled with cars and trucks,’ says Sergio.

The brothers believe that the movie will be able to attract an international audience since the TV series has been a huge success in nearly 50 countries. ‘Many children can’t wait to see their favorite characters on the big screen,’ believes Sergio. ‘In addition, our movie carries an important ecological message which is an extremely topical subject. Another reason is because the film is set in Venice, the most beautiful city in the world, and finally because it’s entertaining, filled with adventure and stars six exceptional protagonists.’

The Manfios point out that the European animation scene would be in a much better state if the various countries acted as part of one big entity with an extraordinary variety of cultures. ‘We are always amazed when one of our series is defined as ‘a great European production’ by people from the other side of the world and, at the same time, how the series can be defined as ‘too Italian’ by others based just a few kilometres north of Turin.’

The team behind the Pet Pals series, which airs daily on RAI TV, hope that audiences around the world will discover the magic of the movie in theatres on their own. As Sergio tells us, ‘We know that they will appreciate the amazing job done by our artists in creating a magical image of Venice without giving in to stereotypes. We also challenge all the readers out there to watch the movie and see exactly how many films and important moments in cinematic history are referenced in our movie. Check out our website to find out!’

You can follow Sergio’s advice at