ANNECY -- Edging towards completion, "Phantom Boy," Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol's New York-set follow-up to their Academy Award nominated debut "A Cat in Paris," has begun to roll out sales in Europe, proving there is a market for at least for the most anticipated of upscale artpic/crossover animated features.
Produced by legendary French studio Folimage and Belgium's Lunanime, the animation arm of Lumiere, and a highly-popular Work in Progress presentation Friday at France's Annecy Animation Festival, "Phantom Boy" has sold to Folketsbio in Sweden, Angel Films in Denmark, Arthaus in Norway, Agora Films (Switzerland), Falcon in the Middle East and Axia Distribution in French-speaking Canada.
Diaphana will distribute in France, Lumiere Publishing, Lumiere's distrib arm, will release "Phantom Boy" for Benelux.
Sales were made by Annemie Degryse at Lumiere International Sales, in association with Daniela Elstner from Paris-based Doc & Film International.
"I'm very happy after having also being involved in 'A Cat in Paris,' to be a partner from the very beginning on 'Phantom Boy," said Degryse.
"There is a very good understanding between our two companies/studios, both production-wise and artistically.
We think 'Phantom Boy' is an even better and more mature story than 'A Cat in Paris,'" she added.
Penned like "Cat" by Gagnol, "Boy" is set up at famed French animation house Folimage, the prestige Valence-based producer behind European Film Academy Best Animated Feature winner "Mia and the Migoo" which "Migoo" director Jacques-Remy Girerd founded in 1981.
A singular fantasy crime thriller with comic touches, "Phantom Boy" turns on an eleven-year-old hospitalized hero-boy, Leo, who's capable of flying over New York City and passing through walls like a phantom, while remaining invisible. Leo uses these abilities to aid a wheelchair-bound cop and plucky femme journo to hunt down the local mob kingpin, a villain known as The Man With the Broken Face (which is also unsettlingly multi-colored in an extract seen at Annecy). However, Leo battles not only evil but also his own illness.
"Phantom Boy" is set in New York, at Girerd's suggestion, Gagnol said at Annecy.
"The original screenplay set the action in an unspecified port city. 'A Cat in Paris' took place in Paris. I suggested that 'Phantom Boy' should also happen in an important city, and Alain, influenced by American literature and movies, picked New York," Girerd said.
"Manhattan aids the style of the film. I went to a Guggenheim Museum and there was a show on Italian Futurism, and the style in which the Manhattan high-rise skyline is portrayed has a certain similarity to 'Phantom Boy,'" he added.
But "Phantom Boy" s not simply a riff on Gotham masked avenger, fare, Gagnol told Variety at Annecy.
Like "A Cat in Paris," it is made in a mix of Folimage's celebrated traditional hand-drawn 2D animation on paper to capture lighting effects and computer painting for crowd scenes, such as New York pedestrians and traffic, so as to capture the bustle of the city's streets, Gagnol said.
Animation was completed a month ago. Computer coloring is taking pace; editing, mixing, sound work still has to be carried out, he added.
At Friday's Annecy Work in Progress, Gagnol screened about 10 minutes of excerpts from the film plus his own rough storyboard sketches and Felicioli's own, meticulous interpretations of them. Thanks to 'Phantom Boy's direction, characters are often placed in the center-of-frame, leaving large space for closely detailed renderings of background, whether a store, Leo's home or a hospital playroom. Family scenes sport a warmth in color unusual for a crime thriller; action scenes are far colder.
Unlike in American superhero narratives, which rep a celebration of the individual and their ability to alter history, Leo needs the help of his police friend and the journalist: He cannot battle evil or his illness alone.
As in other Folimage features, "Phantom Boy" is carefully budgeted - the original budget, when the film was announced, was set at â¬5.5 million ($7.5 million) - and energetically supported by major French players. France 3 Cinema has taken French free-to-air rights, Canal Plus and Cine Plus have taken pay. France's second-biggest regional film fund, Rhone Alpes, also co-finances.
However little its producers exposure, the key to French 2D animated features remains not only their financing but their audience. A GKids pick-up for the U.S., "A Cat In Paris" garnered a good 350,000 admissions-plus in France from a December 2010 opening, repping an around-$3.0 million B.O. gross.
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