This year, two of the five Oscar-nominated animated features—My Life As A Zucchini and The Red Turtle—are European co-productions. That should hardly be a surprise. European feature animation is currently booming, and has plenty of room for growth in the coming years.
A key event for getting perspective on what’s happening in European long-form animation is , set to take place next month in Bordeaux, France between March 8 and 10. Fifty-five animated projects have been selected to be presented at the upcoming edition.
Cartoon Movie presents films in various stages of the production cycle, from concept and development through production, and even fully-completed films. The pitching and co-production forum, now in its 19th year, is where European producers often find financing, co-producers and distributors for features. Over 265 animated films that have been pitched at Cartoon Movie over the years have secured financing and release.
To understand Cartoon Movie, one has to first understand the key financial distinction between American and European animated features. In the U.S., most of the major animated films (Laika being the notable exception) are produced within a studio system, where one of the major entertainment corporations will put up all the money to make a film. European financing is less straightforward; film budgets are usually cobbled together from a complicated system of co-productions where different producers, distributors, and broadcasters (often in different countries) each put up a portion of the budget.
Both systems have advantages and drawbacks, but the key advantage to the European system is that there is more opportunity for variety in animated filmmaking. Average European budgets are a tiny fraction of average American animated features, which not only allows for more films to be made, but also allows producers to take risks without the looming fear of failure. For example, the Oscar-nominated My Life As A Zucchini, a Swiss-French co-production cost just US$8 million, whereas Disney’s Zootopia cost $150 million. While Zucchini won’t ever come close to matching the gross of Zootopia, at 1/19th the cost, it doesn’t need to put up blockbuster grosses to make back its money.
For a long time, European producers tried to replicate American-style animated features on European budgets, which resulted in films that were derivative and subpar. But that formula has begun to change in the last decade, and increasingly, European producers are making films that have unique graphic styles and content designed from the ground-up for lower budgets.
As part of that trend, producers are also exploring thematic concepts and stories that go beyond family-friendly fare typically associated with animation. These trends are fully evident among Cartoon Movie’s selections this year, where around one-third of the 55 projects are targeted at teen and adult audiences.