Significant French TV animation began in the mid- to late-1980s. It has generally gone unnoticed in America. I covered Moi Renart, the 26-episode 1986 modernization of the medieval Reynard the Fox legend by Jean Cuband (Renart the fox is a young Parisian good-guy thief; Hermeline the vixen is a journalist; Isengrim the wolf is an automobile salesman; Chanticleer the rooster and Tybalt the cat are policemen; etc.), in my column on animated versions of the Reynard legend (August 4, 2013).
Several other French TV animation hits have been covered or alluded to in other columns. The two Marsupilami TV series of 1993 and 2000 were mentioned in my First Anniversary column. The Marsu was also mentioned in my column on French theatrical features of 2012. The two Les As de la Jungle (The Jungle Aces) TV series of 2011 and 2013 were mentioned in the column covering the theatrical features of 2011. The extremely popular 1999 – present Oggy et les Cafards (Oggy and the Cockroaches) was covered in my column on French theatrical features of 2013, and the 2006 – present Miniscule was covered in my column on French theatrical features of 2014. The 2008 Au Pays du Père Noël (The World of Santa Claus), 24 1-minute Christmas CGI shorts designed to be edited together for a half-hour TV Special on Christmas eve 2008, was covered in my 2013 column on foreign Christmas animation (A to I nations).
Here are some others.
Bouli. Les Cartooneurs Associés is a French TV animation studio founded by director Denis Olivieri in 1982. Its first and best-known series was Bouli, directed by Olivieri, about a magic snowman and his snowmen family and friends in a village in the blue forest. They are brought to life by the Moon, who keeps them non-melting so Bouli can have adventures all over the world. It consists of 114 episodes; 78 of 5 minutes each and 36 of 7 minutes each. They were mixed together in half-hour episodes originally shown on French TV during 1989-1990, and in other countries (the Netherlands, Ireland, Macedonia, Israel, etc.) later.
Other Cartooneurs Associés TV series through 2000 were Baby Folies, 52 13-minute episodes directed by Serge Rosenzweig and Claude Prothée, about a city inhabited by babies (baby detectives, baby gangsters, baby bureaucrats, etc.) before they are delivered to mothers by the stork, 1993-1994; Les Multoches!, 52 3½ -minute episodes directed by Bernard Betrémieux, educational teaching infants the numbers from 0 to 9, beginning October 11, 1995; Léo et Popi, 104 2-minute episodes, directed by Jacky Bretaudeau and Luc Vinciguerra, created by Helen Oxenbury, the British nursery picture-book author-illustrator, about two infants similar to Sheldon Mayer’s comic-book Sugar and Spike, 1994; and Les Mille et Une Prouesses de Pépin Troispommes (The 1,001 Exploits of Pepin Threeapples), 52 13-minute episodes written by Denis Olivieri & Claude Proteus and directed by Jacky Bretaudeau and Luc Vinciguerra, a fantasy-comedy about a young-boy wandering medieval knight with Grosbec his cook and Picanier the jester, made to be a part of other half-hour children’s TV series, from December 20, 1999. Les Cartooneurs Associés produced one TV fine-art TV cartoon, the 5”12” La Danse des Asperges Sarassines (Dance of the Saracen Asperaguses), directed by Christophe Le Borgne, broadcast on Canal + on June 9, 2000.
There was a lot of insignificant French TV animation from the 1980s through 2000. For example, Ellipse Programmé was a French TV animation studio founded in 1987, but all of its pre-2000 productions were co-productions with Nelvana Ltd. of Toronto (Tintin, Babar, etc.), and are considered Canadian rather than French animation. These studios generally produced animation for other countries’ TV programs and movies. Some still do; some have disappeared; and a few have moved up post-2000 to animated features. An example is Folimage, founded in 1981 by Jacques-Rémy Girerd. Prior to 2001, its only standout production was Michael Dudok de Wit’s 6’20” fine-art Le Moine et le Poisson (The Monk and the Fish), which made the circuit of 1994 international animation festivals and was nominated for the 1994 Academy Award for Animated Short Films. Since 2000, Folimage has produced four internationally-prestigious animated features, four TV specials, six TV series, and 31 fine-art shorts.
Sylvain Chomet, who would become better-known after 2000, created the 1997 23-minute La Vielle Dame et les Pigeons (The Old Lady and the Pigeons). It won him a BAFTA, the Grand Prize at the 1997 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the 1997 Cartoon d’Or of the Cartoon Forum, and other awards, plus an Oscar nomination.
René Laloux made several animated shorts between 1957 and 1988; only the 1965 11-minute absurdist prize-winning Les Escargots (The Snails), also with art design by Roland Topor, being known in America.
Quick & Flupke, about the misadventures of two young Brussels boys, was an early bande dessinée series by Hergé from 1930 to 1940, parallel to his Tintin. In 1940 he dropped it to concentrate on his more popular Tintin. Hergé became so popular after 1950 that even his old non-Tintin albums were reissued. Just before Hergé’s death in 1983, the Quick & Flupke pages were collected into twelve albums; and in 1987, Studios Hergé as the animation studio Graphoui animated them all as a TV series of 250 1-minute episodes. The two young boys, roughly in the style of Jackie Coogan in Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, played pranks on each other and on Agent 15, a comedy-relief Brussels policeman in a 1920s uniform who looked like one of the Thom(p)son detectives from Tintin.
Billy the Cat. This began as a popular bande dessinée fantasy series started by writer Stephen Desberg, later by Jean-Louis Janssens, and artist Stéphane Colman (later others) in 1981, serialized in Le Journal de Spirou and reprinted as eleven albums. It was popular enough to be animated, but with a very bowdlerized plot. In the albums, Billy Colas is a human brat about nine years old who plays mean jokes on his schoolmates and pets. He is killed by a car, and refused entry into Heaven because of his misdeeds. However, due to his youth, he is given a second chance. He is reincarnated as a kitten and told to perform 1,000 good deeds in that form. (Notably, Billy is a black-haired boy who becomes a tiger-striped yellow kitten.)
The comic strip always had a somber undertone. Billy is convinced that if he performs a thousand good deeds, he will become a boy again and continue with his life. The readers know that Billy is dead as a human for good, and that his continued life will always be as a cat. The question is whether he will be able to accomplish a thousand good deeds as a cat to get into Heaven after his final death.
The animated TV series lightened the plot considerably. Billy is turned into a kitten by a magician for mistreating the magician’s kitten. The magician also turns the kitten into a duplicate of Billy, so his family will not know that anything has happened to him. Billy joins a gang of alley cats, who have much milder adventures than those in the albums; and Billy’s possibility of becoming a boy again is always a real goal. Billy’s mentor as a cat is Mr. Huber, an older white cat. The TV series ran from 1996 to 2001, for four seasons of 13 episodes each. It had 18 co-producers; the main ones being EVA Entertainment, La Fabrique, Les Films du Triangle, and NOA (Network of Animation) Entertainment.
Totally Spies! should be mentioned, since it is one of French TV animation’s most popular series in the U.S. & Canada. It was created by Vincent Chalvon-Demersay & David Michel, and co-produced by Marathon Media in France and Image Entertainment Corporation in Canada. The first episode was broadcast on November 3, 2001 in the U.S. and on April 3, 2002 in France. There have been six seasons and 156 episodes to date.
Totally Spies! is about three teenage girls (Samantha “Sam” Simpson, redhead; Clover Ewing, blonde; and Alexandra “Alex” Vasquez, Latino) who pose as Beverly Hills High students while really working as secret agents for the World Organization of Human Protection (WOOHP). It follows humorously the traditional American comic-book secret crimefighting organization formula, although it is visually designed to look like Japanese TV anime.
Zig & Sharko consists of 156 7-minute TV cartoons about a desert island where Zig the hyena constantly tries to eat Marina the mermaid, who is protected by her best friend, Sharko. The animation is by Xilam, the French studio that produced/es Oggy et les Cafards, Les Nouvelles Aventures de Lucky Luke, Shuriken School, and many other animated TV series, plus the features Kaena: La Prophétie; Tous à l’Ouest: Une Aventure de Lucky Luke, and Oggy et les Cafards: Le Film.
Les Grandes Grandes Vacances (The Long Long Holiday) hasn’t come out yet, but the previews look stunning! In September 1939, France has just declared war on Germany. Ernest, 11 years old, and Collette, 6, and their parents are spending their summer vacation with the childrens’ grandparents on a Normandy farm. Their parents, from Paris, decide to leave the children there to “wait and see” how the war situation will turn out. Their summer vacation lasts more than five years, and the city children learn to become rural peasants… Ten half-hour (26-minute) TV episodes beginning in April 2015, directed by Paul Leluc, produced by Les Armateurs – the mostly-TV studio that made the theatrical features T’choupi (2004) and Allez Raconte (2010), and in co-production, the Kirikou movies of Michel Ocelot, Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003), Brendan and the Secret of Kells (2008), Ernest et Célestine (2012), and more. I thought that only Japanese TV animation studios made mini-series like this.
Thanks to French TV animation in the past two decades, I could go on almost endlessly; but this column has concentrated on enough French animation for awhile.