From ‘Nimona’ to ‘Ruby Gillman’ and ‘Mutant Mayhem,’ Big Plays, Buzz Titles, and a Central Paradox at This Year’s Annecy 

ANNECY — Opening under the pall of Thursday’s knife attack, – which prompted a spirited show of solidarity and communal defiance at its opening ceremony on Sunday – this year’s Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival has never been bigger. Creativity is exploding, from “Spider-Verse” and beyond. 

Animation is flowering in India and Africa. 

Yet studio work, much courtesy of streamer orders, may rebound, but never return to the halcyon levels of the last few years. Theatrical for most animation titles has yet to return, moreover – save for extraordinary mega-blockbusters such as “Across the Spider-Verse” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” 10 takes on this year’s Annecy, the biggest animation festival on the world:  

The Big Plays

Three – and nearly four – high-profile U.S. movies world premiere at Annecy: Disney’s “Once Upon A Studio,” a 100th anniversary celebratory short; DreamWorks Animation’s comedy fantasy “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken”; and Netflix’s buzzy modern Medieval world set “Nimona,” heralded as a paean to more fluid identity. A third title, and like Ruby Gillman” a wide U.S. summer release, Paramount-Nickelodeon’s anticipated “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” plays very nearly completed on June 12.

Animation: The Boom Goes On

“Annecy has never been bigger.” Variety has been reporting that since it began extensive coverage of the festival in 2008. It took a global pandemic to break 12 years of consecutive year-on-year on-site attendance growth through 2019. Post-pandemic, that growth has renewed. All together, Festival and MIFA market accreditations by late May were around 13,300, already up on 2019’s 12,500 and last year. One key, Annecy Festival artistic director Michel Jean argues is Michel Ocelot’s 1998’s “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” produced by Didier Brunner, which brought down the flag on a French animated feature film industry. Now most of the world makes or is trying to make features, swelling Annecy’s inexorable growth.

Key Talking Points 

Having produced two of the three biggest animation releases since March 2020 – “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” ($1.3 billion in global box office) and 2021’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” ($939 million) – one big question is whether lightning will strike twice for Chris Meledandri’s Illumination, a Universal company, with “Migration,” from Benjamin Renner, transitioning to a studio from the stunning 2D aesthetics of “Ernest and Celestine” and “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales.” Another talking point: With Annecy work in progress “Wish,” after “Lightyear,” can Disney see larger traction in family fare, catching up at least to a certain extent on Universal? 

Annecy´s Treasures

“This year’s selection is really a bumper crop,” says Eléanor Coleman, at France’s Blue Spirit Studio. “There’s such a range: Stop-motion, 2D, 3D, big name directors, such as Oscar winning ‘Ratatouille’ co-writer Jim Copabianco [‘The Inventor’], to French auteurs to a delightful, quirky Hungarian feature made entirely in one Budapest studio,” she adds, referring to “Four Souls of Coyote.”

That range has been broadened all the more by Contrechamp, Annecy’s Un Certain Regard, launched from 2019’s edition, Coleman argues, citing as potential section standouts the rotoscoped “White Plastic Sky,” from Hungary’s Tibor Banoczki and Sarolta Szabo, and “Robot Dreams,” from Spain’s Arcadia Motion Pictures, a Neon U.S. pickup. David Jesteadt, Gkids president, agrees: “If you just sampled the competition lineup, I think you’d be pretty excited about the state of animation.” 

Buzzy Shorts 

The heart of Annecy in its first decades, shorts still form a large part of the Festival. In main competition, there’s good word on “Humo,” an exquisite and devastating Holocaust tale from Mexico’s Rita Basulto; Erik Van Schaaik’s mockumentary stop motion show biz satire “The Smile,” a festival favourite; Hangjin Jo’s classic horror tale “Last Order”; the reportedly gorgeous “La Saison Pourpre,” from Clémence Bouchereau; and Flora Anna Buda’s “27,” which won a best short Palme d’Or at Cannes a few weeks back. Variety will be publishing its suggestions of 10 shorts not to miss at this year’s Annecy. 

Creativity

But international is caught between contradictory phenomena. In original production, there’s extraordinary innovation and creation, says David Michel, president of Cottonwood Media, and head of Federation Kids & Family, citing France’s La Cabane Productions, whose “Mush-Mush & the Mushables” has aired in 150+ countries. “I’m really excited about the younger, first time filmmaking teams, from some of the emerging production markets that are maybe about to deliver really, really commercial and really spectacular works,” says Jesteadt.

Variety, partnered by Nickelodeon, will be keying in precisely on this extraordinary excitement about new creativity, aided by technological advance, at an Annecy panel, Breaking the Borders of Animation, on Tuesday. 

Headwinds 

Yet market headwinds abound. “It’s something we’ve seen for years but especially in the last few months, most big U.S. streamers and broadcasters are cutting back on commissioning originals and the question going forward is how many will be willing to take risks going for new creations rather than really commercially-driven TV shows with high-profile IPs attached,” says one sales head. 

“The uncertainty with the streamers, along with continuing challenges still leftover from COVID-19,” means that “there doesn’t seem to be any obvious successful path for distribution that you can use for every single film. You can sense the anxiety within the industry. I don’t think that we’re alone,” says Jestaedt.

Anime Consolidates

“Adult animation is opening up,” says Coleman. “The fact that there’s now another audience beyond kids & family is growing the business, and convergence with gaming industry’s IPs is driving further growth,” says Olivier Lelardoux, Blue Spirit Studio CEO. Opening up to adult animation often means opening up to the influence of anime. Anime is “really widely distributed, widely available and very globalised. A lot of creators have grown up with it as a kind of second language, aesthetically,” says Jestaedt. And anime is building into a U.S. market phenomenon.Crunchyroll, Sony’s anime label, grossed last year in the U.S. $87.4 million, up there with Lionsgate ($85.4 million) and Searchlight ($59.9 million), according to Variety’s VIP+. 

The Mix

“In kids’ shows, you have to format the look. With adult animation you can explore more. CGI used to mean having a very se, volumetric, realistic look. It’s not true anymore. You can create a 2D look using CG,” says Lelardoux at Blue Spirit, which  performed studio service work on Netflix’s “Blue Eye Samurai,” to be sneak peeked at its Wednesday See What’s Next @ Netflix showcase, and one of the most anticipated TV shows at this year’s Annecy. The Festival opened Sunday night with Walt Disney Animation. Studios’  short film “Once Upon A Studio,” directed by Dan Abraham and Trent Correy, mixing the mediums of hand-drawn, CG and live action plates. That’s Disney. But Tamara Cruz’s “Ñihi,” in Annecy’s Mexico Tribute, combines 2D, 3D and rotoscoping. And that’s just a graduate short. If there’s a look which is creeping into so much many series being brought onto the market or released on streamers is is a lot of gorgeous or softly-toned 2D, made in 3D CGI.      

The Non-Sleeping Giant

Attracting some of the biggest films or series on Earth, to relatively new animators from the last continent left to discover animation, Africa., Annecy is Hollywood’s animation festival, and everybody’s everywhere all at once as well.”

One case in point: India. India’s Aniverse and Visual Arts Foundation (AVAF) and Annecy Festival are teaming to launch AniMela, India’s first-ever international festival for animation, VFX, XR, gaming and comics. Expect more details later during Annecy. 

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