This is the 15th installment of my survey of French animated features – this week a look at the features released in 2013, with films by new breed of diverse animators.
Blackie & Kanuto (Black to the Moon 3D), directed by Francis Nielsen. 81 minutes. April 17, 2013.
Blackie (or Blacky) is a black sheep who goes out of her way to be “different”. Kanuto is an exasperated sheepdog who is in love with her. When Blackie decides to travel to the Moon, Kanuto reluctantly joins her. Other characters include Blackie’s loyal followers, Pepe (horse) and Marvin (duck); Fancy, Cloe, and Victoria, the sheep fashionistas who are jealous of Blackie; Theodora, the motherly operatic cow who thinks that Blackie should be a ballerina; Karl Wolf, the haughty lupine fashion designer; Hu Flung Pu, the martial artist spider and his illegal spider seamstresses; the three Patrino Russian canine cosmonauts who have a rocket ship; Rainbow (Grumbo), the macho U.S. Army dog and rival sheepdog who acts more like Rambo; two Bulgarian birds from a singing TV reality show contest; and Pinkie, the sheep who is experimented upon and becomes as large (also as unfriendly) as Godzilla.
Blackie & Kanuto was a CGI Spanish-French-Italian animated feature premiered at the May 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and first released in Spain on February 15, 2013. It was shown in different countries (it was extremely popular in Russia) in different edits. Other titles included Head Over Hooves and Pup.
Aya de Yopougon (Aya of Yop City), directed by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie. 84 minutes. July 17, 2013.
Teenage social life seen through the eyes of Aya of Yopougon, a working-class neighborhood of Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, in the late 1970s. 19-year-old Aya is a serious student who studies each evening, but her friends and classmates include Adjoua and Bintou, who ignore their parents’ warnings against “génitos” (seducers) and cruise the dance bars looking for boyfriends. Adjoua meets Moussa, the son of one of the richest men in the country; but when he gets her pregnant and leaves her, she goes to Aya for help.
Aya de Yopougon was based on the first two albums of the bande dessinée by Margaret Abouet and Clément Oubrerie. It was the second animated feature produced by Joann Sfar’s & Clément Oubrerie’s Autochenille Production, specializing in animation adaptions of bandes dessinées. The actual animation was produced by its close associate, Banjo Studio of Paris. It was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film at the 39th (2013) César Awards.
Oggy et les Cafards: Le Film (Oggy and the Cockroaches: The Movie), directed by Olivier Jean-Marie. 80 minutes. August 7, 2013.
Based on the popular Oggy et les Cafards TV series of 270 7-minute episodes plus 4 half-hour specials since 1999; broadcast in more than 150 countries. Oggy, the fat blue cat; Joey, Marky, and Dee Dee, his cockroach adversaries; Olivia, his white cat love interest; Jack, Oggy’s green cousin; and Bob the bulldog, another of Oggy’s enemies, are all well-established. The TV series is in pantomime so young children everywhere can understand it.
“From the dawn of time, two forces have confronted each other in perpetual, total, merciless combat. A combat which we never suspected despite its ferocity. This clash of titans, this ancestral war, this battle across the ages, isn’t that between good and evil … it’s that of Oggy versus the cockroaches!” (long-running French slogan; my translation)
The feature follows Oggy and his three cockroach enemies through four periods of history: the ancient caveman days, when Oggy Magnon invents fire; the Middle Ages, when Prince Oggy is a knight in armor; Victorian London, where Oggy Watson is a famous detective; and the far future, where Oggy-Wan Kenoggy battles the cockroach minions of an evil empire. The movie is packed with humorous sight references to scenes in famous movies. The supporting cast is present in each age (except Olivia, who is absent from the Star Wars parody), and each climaxes with Oggy battling Joey, Marky, and Dee Dee with his trusty flyswatter.
The first three ages are in traditional cel cartoon animation. The s-f adventure is in futuristic-looking CGI. Oggy et les Cafards: Le Film won Best Film at the 2013 Seville European Film Festival, and was nominated for awards at others.
Maman est en Amérique, Elle a Rencontré Buffalo Bill (My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill), directed by Marc Boreal and Thibaut Chatel. 75 minutes. October 23, 2013.
A sweet family feature. In the 1970s, six-year-old Jean enters school in a small French town. His teacher asks each student to tell what their parents’ profession is. Jean says that his mother is a traveling secretary, currently in America and meeting Buffalo Bill.
Actually, his mother is dead. His father and neighbors are trying to shield him from the truth. They pretend that she is mailing postcards to his neighbor’s daughter Michèle, who is old enough to read. She makes up fantastic stories about his mother’s travels, which Jean believes. But Mme. Moinot, his stern teacher, knows that Buffalo Bill died decades ago … The animated feature shows each of Jean’s stories about his traveling mother, as well as his school and playground life with his friends, until he learns to read and wants to see “his mother’s postcards” for himself.
Maman est en Amérique, Elle a Rencontré Buffalo Bill is based on an award-winning bande dessinée written by Jean Regnaud and drawn by Emile Bravo. It was selected for a movie by producer Guillaume Galliot after he was intrigued by the length of its title in a Parisian bookshop. It had an all-star voice cast including Marc Lavoine and Julie Depardieu. It received awards at five international animation or children’s film festivals, and was a selection of many more. It won a Special Distinction award at the 2013 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and was nominated for the 2014 César Award for Best Animated Film.
L’Apprenti Père Noël et le Flocon Magique (Santa’s Apprentice and the Magic Snowflake), directed by Luc Vinciguerra. November 20, 2013.
The sequel to the 2010 L’Apprenti Père Noël. Santa Claus has retired, and seven-year-old Noël has been appointed his successor. Noël throws himself into the job – too hard. Two days before his first Christmas, the magic of Christmas begins to disappear all over the world, and Noël is horrified to learn that he is the cause. He has become like all children who are determined to grow up and become adults too fast, and have lost their childlike innocence. The retired Santas of the past, including a particularly grumpy Victorian Santa, are summoned to keep Christmas alive on an emergency basis (they all have different ideas), while Noël time-travels to his own past to try to rekindle his sense of wonder. The Magic Snowflake has something to do with that.
Released as just The Magic Snowflake (in appropriate languages) in some countries. The two L’Apprenti Père Noël features are slick commercial Christmas fare. It is still rumored that the Weinstein Brothers are in negotiations for the American rights.
Loulou, l’Incroyable Secret (Wolfy, the Incredible Secret), directed by Éric Omond. 80 minutes. December 18, 2013.
Author-illustrator Grégoire Solotareff created Loulou (Wolfy) in 1984 in a series of picture books that led to Loulou et Autres Loups…, a 2003 29-minute animated featurette of four stories, about the orphaned wolf cub being adopted by the family of Tom, a rabbit in the Land of Rabbits. In this 2013 feature-length sequel, Loulou and Tom have remained best friends and have grown to adolescence. Suddenly a suspicious gypsy tells Loulou that his mother is not dead; she is Princess Olympie of the Principality of Wolfenberg. The two teens journey there to find her (and where Loulou learns to wear clothes). But they arrive in the midst of Wolfenberg’s aristocracy’s Festival de Carne (the Carnivore Games; the Meat-Eaters’ Festival; CarniFestival), where everyone assumes that Loulou has brought Tom to be part of the feast. Their stay puts unexpected stresses on their friendship. Just as the carnivores are demanding that Loulou turn Tom over to them, Miss Scarlett, a sympathetic vixen entertainer (who is connected to a revolutionary underground), helps them to escape. Amidst Wolfenberg’s political unrest, Loulou searches for the reason why he was raised as an orphan among rabbits when his mother is a princess among wolves.
Solotareff and Serge Elissalde, the co-directors of the 2003 Loulou et Autres Loups…, also directed the 2006 U. Loulou, l’Incroyable Secret was a French-Belgian co-production whose numerous studios included Belvision. It opened the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, won the 2014 César Award for Best Animated Film, and was a selection of 66 film festivals in France alone.
The House of Magic, directed by Ben Stasson. 85 minutes. December 25, 2013.
In Boston, a family moving to a new house gets rid of their pet kitten. He wanders until he finds the old mansion of Lawrence, a retired stage magician who now performs free magic shows for children. The kitten, named Thunder by Lawrence, is welcomed into his family of living toys, despite Jack, his magician’s rabbit and Maggie, a feisty white mouse, who think that Thunder is trying to replace them. But when Lawrence is hospitalized, and Daniel, his nephew and a greedy real-estate developer, tries to railroad Lawrence into a retirement community so he can sell the mansion, Thunder leads the toys in sabotaging his sales until Lawrence can return from the hospital.
The House of Magic, produced by Ben Stasson’s nWave Studio in Brussels in CGI, was released in Belgium, France, and the French-speaking part of Switzerland for the Christmas 2013 market. It showed all the signs of being produced primarily for American sales, such as its Boston setting and American signage like “Boston General Hospital”, but it failed to get a Summer 2014 American release despite a “coming in July 2014” American trailer. It was finally sold to The Shout! Factory, which retitled it Thunder and the House of Magic, gave it a theatrical release for one week on September 5 in twelve theaters across America, and an On Demand TV release during the rest of September, then released it on DVD on September 30.
Next week: 2014