Guillermo del Toro, Jorge R. Gutiérrez Leading Mexican Animation Tribute at Annecy

“Ahahayy!! Viva Mexico, cabrones!” With that battle cry, Academy Award-winner Guillermo del Toro announced Mexico as the Country of Honor at this year’s Annecy, France’s preeminent animation film festival. 

According to organizer Pixelatl, an association dedicated to the creation and promotion of Mexico’s multimedia content, more than 250 Mexican animators and producers will descend on Annecy with nine programs scheduled.

“The Book of Life” director Jorge R. Gutiérrez, whose Netflix series “Maya and the Three” won four Emmys and an Annie, created the poster and title cards of the festival and will also be hosting a Master Class and screening of “The Book of Life.”

Del Toro’s best animated feature Oscar for his “Pinocchio” this year could not be more fortuitous and timelier for the festival, Gutiérrez observes. Aside from a special screening of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” the maestro will also be presiding over a master class.

Reflecting on the rise of Mexican animation on the international stage, Del Toro says: “Particularly in stop motion, Mexico has been working its way into the medium stronger and stronger. My partner Rigo Mora and myself started experimenting with stop motion formally in the 1980’s and that jolted the interest of the community in my home town of Guadalajara, Mexico. A very strong contingent of stop motion animators came from that and a decade or so later, a few groups started in Mexico City and Monterrey etc. and eventually started getting recognized in festivals around the world.”

He points out that Marcel Delgado, a Mexican from Coahuila, was present at the genesis of modern stop motion, creating “King Kong” alongside Willis O’Brien. “I think this medium is natural to us – and allows films to be done with relatively smaller resources,” he says.

Today, a number of animation companies in Mexico have been successful theatrically, led by Anima Studios and the Huevocartoons franchise, founded in 2001 by the Riva Palacio family and Carlos Zepeda.

“Mexican film is better represented by dozens of brilliant animators participating in short films or lending their talents to films like ‘Spiderverse,’ ‘Pinocchio’ and productions at DreamWorks, Sony, Disney,” Del Toro says, pointing out that talents like Carlos Carrera even won the Palme d’Or in Cannes with his short film, “El Heroe.”

“We’re now more of a service industry but we’re growing into a force to reckon with internationally,” notes Jaime Jimenez, VP of content and original production, kids & family for Warner Bros. Discovery Latin America (WBD LatAm). “We have many animators working abroad but we hope more of them return to give back and share their expertise,” he adds.

WBD LatAm is also presenting Lucha Libre 2D animated series “Rey Mysterio,” a co-production with Mexican studios ¡Viva Calavera! and Mighty, and hit series “Villainous,” among other projects, at Annecy.

With more people working abroad, “we now have the first generation of experienced animation artists who are teaching at our schools,” Gutiérrez observes.

Leading the vanguard of upcoming original feature films made entirely in Mexico is the much-anticipated stop motion pic, “Frankelda and the Prince of Spooks” a co-production between Cinema Fantasma and Cartoon Network, a WBD brand.

A spin-off from the popular series “Frankelda’s Book of Spooks,” a few minutes of the feature will be shown at Annecy’s Works in Progress sidebar, says Pixelatl CEO Jose Iñesta, as will the new take on DC’s Dark Knight, “Aztec Batman: Clash of Empires,” a collaboration involving WB Animation, Particular Crowd, Mexico’s Anima Studios and “Book of Life” producer Chatrone.

“The animation industry has grown tremendously in Mexico, especially during the past few years,” notes Anima Studios’ Jose Carlos Garcia de Letona, who will be participating at a panel in Annecy. “What really sets us apart is the wealth of Mexican folklore and mythology that we can exploit in our stories,” he says, adding that Anima Studios has produced 24 animated features so far and runs studios in Mexico City and the Canary Islands.

“By shedding light on the untapped heritage of Mexico, we are uncovering hidden treasures that offer profound insights into our country’s history, identity and the contributions of its Indigenous peoples,” says Jacobo Salomón, producer of a Mexican-Brazilian-French co-production in development, “The Mark of the Jaguar” trilogy, which has been selected to participate in Meet the Producers – Gap Financing day at Annecy.

Part one of the 2-D animated trilogy, “The Mark of the Jaguar: The Awakening of Fire,” centers on Aztec warrior Xilacatzin, whose dark mark on his body makes his people reject him. “Ted Lasso” star Cristo Fernandez, a voice talent in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” will voice Xilacatzin.

Said director Victor Mayorga: “I chose this theme because there is very little known about the latest findings in archeology and anthropology about the culture of our Indigenous peoples, even in their fight against the Spanish colonizers.”

Meanwhile, Gutiérrez hopes to make his upcoming Netflix animated feature about a scrappy masked luchador dog, “I, Chihuahua,” in Mexico, with comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias as producer, co-writer and lead voice talent. He has also been developing an adult-targeted series and a family series, which he also wants to make in Mexico.

The country has the infrastructure for “I, Chihuahua’s” above-average budget, but perhaps not the experience, although having some scenes of “Pinocchio” made there has “opened the doors for more major productions,” he notes.

“Annecy giving our country a big recognition was something vital that has been pursued and earned for years now and I, for one, am very thankful,” says Del Toro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *