European Animated Movies

The eagerly-awaited American debut of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parannaud’s Persepolis reminds us that Europe is not a casual producer of animated movies. (I will save my comments on the film until after it opens in Atlanta in February.) In fact, Europe has long been very active in this area for many years, though only a handful of films have had any visibility in the American marketplace; if they do get a US release, it is usually via home video and cable.

When the Oscar for Best Animated Film was introduced in 2001, this seemed to provide an incentive for overseas producers to try to break into the American market; as a result, avid animation fans in Los Angeles can catch Oscar-qualifying screenings for a handful of films the Academy and distributors promptly ignore. But this lack of visibility in the United States does not mean there is not a viable market for these films.

Donkey Xote 01 For instance, Jose Pozo’s Donkey Xote, whose main character owes much to Shrek, recently opened at 300 theaters, a record for a Spanish film. Variety‘s review calls it, “A lively but clumsy comic retelling of the Cervantes classic, pic reps Spanish cinema’s finest computer animation to date, but its humdrum script leaves it flailing at windmills. Home B.O. since Dec. 5 release has been solid but not special, with surefire sales to Spanish-speaking territories unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.” However, with a €15 million ($22 million) budget, it is not hard to see it making a profit.

lissi-01 Germany has a long record of making popular animated film which never seem to get into other markets. However, according to Variety, Michael “Bully” Herbig’s Lissi Und Der Wilde Kaiser (Lissi and the Wild Emperor), a comic take on the popular true-life story of the marriage of Bavaria’s Princess Elizabeth and Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph, may have a chance to do just that. It notes that Lissi “”isn’t Germany’s first CG-animated feature, but technically it’s on a level with anything from the DreamWorks Animation stable.” According to Screen Daily, it was also the “only German film to reach this year’s Top 10 – with $ 19.1m box-office takings.”

By the way, the film marks the animation debut for Herbig, who is best known for his live-action comedies. (Check out images and trailers at the film’s official site.)

Winx Club — The Secret of the Lost Kingdom, directed by Iginio Straffi, which opened in Italy last month hit it big at the box office. According to the International Herald-Tribune,

For the uninitiated, Winx are fairies, six comely – and fashionable – teenage fairies with a successful television series to their name and a good start on silver-screen stardom. “Winx – The Secret of the Lost Kingdom,” the first full-length movie featuring the fairies, was No. 1 at the Italian box office when it opened two weekends ago throughout Italy, just as truckloads of Winx Club-branded merchandise – dolls, purses, DVDs and so on – jump-started the pre-Christmas rush.

One oft-touted statistic: Winx outsell Barbie in Italy.

The film, which cost €25 million ($36.8 million) is on the high side for a European effort, as it also involved building a new CG studio in Rome. (The TV series was done in 2D.) However, with Winx having generated some €1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) in worldwide merchandising over the past 4 years in , it would seem a reasonable gamble.

The Hollywood Reporter seems to agree, noting that the film has,

So far … sold to almost 46 territories. The film should do well in the markets in which the show and Winx merchandising are popular, such as Europe and North America. The international rollout is set for the beginning of 2008, giving the animation team an extra month to rework glitches in the Italian version.

However, as far as the film goes, its verdict is a bit less positive:

The fairies are a disturbing mix of sexiness and sexlessness, the CGI animation rather straightforward and at 90 minutes the story should wear out older viewers’ patience. The continuous harping on good having to win out over evil seems less a message than a slogan in lieu of story development.

The stereotypical teenagers’ endless chatter about their joys, sadness and fears — not to mention clothes — is punctuated by action/battle scenes that ultimately lack suspense. You don’t have to know the Winx Club world to quickly gather that none of its perfectly pretty boys and girls could experience anything other than a happy ending. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of colorful eye candy to look at along the way, mostly the fairies’ outfits and hairstyles, for which they are known and loved.

For more on the Winx Club check out Rainbow Entertainment’s website, or the many clips available on YouTube.

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.