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Buzz Titles, Deals and Trends

The Annecy Animation Festival, the most important eight days of the year for the global animation industry, wraps up tonight, so we’re looking back at 10 themes that dominated the dialogue around this year’s event.

Annecy is Hollywood’s Favorite Animation Showcase

In interviews held before this year’s festival, several representatives from Hollywood studios, speaking on background, told us that Annecy has now replaced Comic-Con as their most important promotional event of the year for animation.

During a backstage interview with Variety at a “Transformers: One” panel, festival artistic director Marcel Jean explained that building that reputation wasn’t a quick or easy process. “It’s a long-term work to convince the studios that Annecy is a place to be for them,” he said. “I think we are building a very strong relationship with Paramount, and it’s the same with most of the studios now.”

Paramount and Nickelodeon boss Ramsey Naito backed Jean’s claim, arguing that Annecy has become “a place where all the majors can come and present their wares like we’re doing today with ‘Transformers One.’ It’s just an incredible blend of independent and big animation.”

Box Office Predictor

As Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” stands poised to score the second largest opening weekend for an animated film ever (third if we count “The Lion King” – 2019), it’s worth noting the increasing importance of Annecy in building up hype for theatrically released animated films. Three sequels likely to contend for highest grossing release of 2024 – “Inside Out 2,” “Despicable Me 4” and “Moana 2” – featured at this year’s festival and will look to capitalize on audience hype. For new animated franchises, like DreamWorks’ “The Wild Robot” and Warner Bros. Animation’s “Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim,” Annecy can act as a platform to begin familiarizing audiences with the exciting new titles.

It’s not just Hollywood features that benefit. “Because Annecy is one of the premier showcases of anime, it’s important that Crunchyroll is here to celebrate the films we are distributing, have distributed, and will distribute,” Mitchel Berger, Crunchyroll’s theatrical boss, told Variety. “Screening a film here can be the catalyst for both a phenomenal awards campaign and a successful box office run.”

International titles with limited marketing budgets perhaps stand to gain the most from Annecy exposure. “It’s crucial for us and has been for years,” says Charades co-founder Yohann Comte. “Each year, there is more press here and more distributors. There is an appetite among both specialized distributors and big global players to get more involved with animation,” he added.

Awards Season Barometer

As the major U.S.-based awards have slowly shifted away from exclusively recognizing studio kids and family films, Annecy is rapidly becoming one of the most important stops an animated feature can make in the buildup to awards season. Four of last year’s Oscar-nominated films, “Robot Dreams,” “Elemental,” “Nimona” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” all featured heavily in Annecy programming in the years leading up to their releases. It’s early to start fingering potential contenders for this year’s top prizes. The big studios look poised to regain control of major U.S. awards ceremonies after a couple of down years, but it would hardly be surprising for films like “Memoir of a Snail,” from former Oscar-winner Adam Elliot, or “Flow,” which won four awards during tonight’s closing ceremony, to feature heavily in any awards season talk.

AI Unwelcome

If Annecy was a testing ground for how young artists would react to animation created using artificial intelligence, the software still has a long way to go to win them over. There was plenty of hubbub before the festival regarding the inclusion of several titles in sections across this year’s event, and most of it was negative. While Annecy audiences proved largely opposed to titles made using AI, a consensus wasn’t so cut-and-dry among some artists at this year’s event. In a panel titled AI: Between Fantasy and Reality, filmmakers familiar with generative AI software discussed but failed to come to any kind of conclusions regarding the future of machine learning in animation.

Adult Animation Thrives

That’s in the U.S. and now potentially in Europe. Adult Swim bowed the top three new animated series on U.S. cable in 2023, including “Unicorn: Warriors Eternal.” “The distribution of adult animation just this week got better,” Adult Swim president Michael Ouweleen said at Annecy, referring to the launch of Max – and so Adult Swim – in France. He also outlined his plans to produce creative talent in Europe and beyond. “There’s a huge recognition of the incredible talent that’s in Europe and the opportunity that provides in new markets like adult animation,” notes Eléanor Coleman at Blue Spirit Studios.

Broadcasters Elevated Importance

Although there was a general consensus that the streamers have been slowly coming back to the table after a period of retrenchment, independent producers and sales operations around the world are increasingly looking to public broadcasters and big commercial networks as the default operation for sales and co-production. “With the right IP, the streamers are still hugely important partners for us, with phenomenal global reach,” Benoît Di Sabatino, CEO of Banijay Kids & Family, told Variety. That said, “as the economic climate continues to challenge our industry, broadcast partners are proving agile and adaptable as we explore new financing models and adventurous co-productions across multiple markets,” he added.

Eyes on India

Few territories have greater potential to upend the animation apple cart in the coming years than India. The country has a highly skilled talent pool that is rapidly catching up with Western companies in terms of technical execution. One need look no further than DreamWorks Animation’s Netflix Original feature “Orion and the Dark,” released earlier this year, which was animated almost entirely in India. Showcasing the region’s burgeoning animation scene, Annecy hosted Namaste MIFA for the first time this year, a pitching event for four Indian works-in-progress reflecting diverse themes including sports, food, gender and tradition. Four Indian projects also feature among 41 titles in this year’s larger MIFA Pitching section.

Buzz Titles

So, which titles made good impressions at this year’s festival?

Gints Zilbalodis’ “Flow” received the ultimate thumbs-up, Guillermo del Toro’s, who tweeted: “If I could wish for the future of animation, these images would be its magnificent, breathtaking start.” Variety hailed “Memoir of a Snail” as “a droll, delightfully quotable second feature.” “Wallace & Gromit: Vengeance Most Fowl” did nothing to harm the franchise’s awards season credentials after headlining Netflix’s Wednesday showcase.

Screened in this year’s Midnight Specials, the Norwegian CG comedy “Spermageddon” took Annecy by storm, surprising even its sales agent Charades. “For us, ‘Spermageddon’ was crazy! I’ve never seen a reaction like that,” said Comte. “‘Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’s” 20 minutes of epic footage shown at Annecy was received with “thunderous applause,” Variety reported. Adult Swim premiere “Common Side Effects” and Miyu WIP “Planètes” both sparked excellent word of mouth. And Cecile McLorin Salvant’s “Ogresse” dazzled with a stunning new teaser.

The Business

A score and more deals announced at Annecy in exclusivity by Variety:

*An “Adventure Time” movie is in development with Rebecca Sugar, Patrick McHale and Adam Muto attached, while two spinoff series are also in the works at Cartoon Network Studios;

*Bad Bunny and Will Ferrell film “Dropz” is among five new projects in development at Paramount Animation;

*Disney unveiled a “Moon Girl” musical shorts series, “Big City Greens” Season 5 order and First-Look Clip for “Disney Junior’s Ariel”;

*Beyond three “Adventure Time” iterations, Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Adult Swim announced over Annecy new “Regular Show,” “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” shows, and four other full-season orders – including ‘Oh My God, Yes!, A Series of Extremely Relatable Circumstances” and ‘Haha, You Clowns’ – as well as four more projects in development, yielding a brace of instant buzz titles at Annecy.

*Oscar-winning “Brave” director Mark Andrews is attached to showrun postapocalyptic samurai dinosaur Series “Kyoryu.”

*Former Paramount, Reel FX exec Jared Mass launched Atlanta-based Chalkdust Animation Studios’ first project, an animated C.S. Lewis adaptation.

*In a first of what are likely to be fullsome sales for Charades, raunch-fest “Spermageddon,” one of the defining titles at this year’s Annecy Film Festival, has been scooped up by Germany’s Square One Entertainment:

* “The Smurfs· rights holder rebrands as Peyo Company, as it unveils at Annecy new projects inspired by “Johan & Peewit” and ‘“Benny Breakiron” comics

*Grammy winner Cecile McLorin Salvant’s ‘Ogresse,’ is joined by “Savages” director Claude Barras, who will oversee its stop-motion, and by sales agent Kinology;

*Woody Allen-narrated animated short “Mr. Fischer’s Chair” is heading into production;

*“Arcane” Animation Studio Fortiche Production is prepping sci-fi feature “Penelope of Sparta,” inspired by Greek mythology, and its first push into original feature film production;

*Folivari has acquired distribution rights to Sherlock Holmes spinoff “The Baker Street Four” as it powers up sales arm Folivari International amidst broader foreign-market expansion.

*“Blue Eye Samurai” studio Blue Spirit launches in-house development as it plans North American expansion.

*Banijay Kids & Family places Cartoons on the Bay winner “Froggie” with Spain’s RTVE and France’s Gulli, owned by broadcaster M6;

*Academy Award-winning animation studio Punkrobot introduced at Annecy its debut feature “Brave Cat” with a first-look teaser;

*Louis Leterrier and Sacrebleu Productions unveiled Gallic steampunk superhero series “The Chimera Brigade.”

*12-time Grammy winner Ruben Blades provides an original song to animated climate change feature “Black Butterflies”;

*Sold by Edward Noeltner’s Beverly Hills and Paris-based Cinema Management Group, frontier tale “Buffalo Kids” has closed a first round of distribution deals, led by Warner Bros. Discovery in Spain and Italy, as CMG sells “Panda Bear in Africa” to key territories, led by France (Le Pacte).

*Loco Films scooped global rights to psychedelic Annecy Competition Player “Rock Bottom”;

*“Mavka” producer Animagrad Studio is teaming with “Luxembourg, Luxembourg’s” Antonio Lukich for Ukrainian animated satire “Family Squad”;

*Annecy’s Work-in-Progress title “Death Does Not Exist” is boarded by sales agent Best Friend Forever;

*French animation distributor Eurozoom inks a strategic alliance with Special Touch Studios, taking four titles to Annecy.

*Sola Media has clinched over 40 territory sales on “The Sloth Lane.”

Record Attendance

This year’s festival drew a record 17,400 accredited attendees from 103 countries. To better facilitate the unprecedented crowds, the festival has taken over large parts of the city, commandeered extra screens in the town’s multiplex and set up a 1,000m² space for MIFA’s new XR&Games Area.

“Every year, the Annecy Festival welcomes passionate industry professionals, highly motivated students and a dynamic public all with the same desire: meet and to experience the magic of animation film in cinema theatres.  This year’s record attendance highlights the vitality of the sector in a fast-evolving industry,” said Mickaël Marin, Annecy Festival CEO.

“We are convinced that animation film, in all its diversity, plays a key role in drawing audiences into cinema theatres,” he added, hinting at how Annecy’s constant growth translates to the wider industry.

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