Pippi Longstocking, the creation of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgreen, is back yet again. The strongest girl in the world, her pet monkey and horse, her friends Tommy and Anika, and Captain Longstocking deal with inept policemen and bumbling thieves in the town of Villakula. The feature film is set for release in the spring 1997 and a 26 x 30-minute television series for the fall of 1997.
Ab Svensk Filmindustri, Sweden
Kirch Group, the parent company of Idunafilm, Betafilm and Taurus, Germany
Trickompany Filmproducktions, Germany
Here’s how the partnership began
To do a study of the present co-production, it is necessary to go back to the birth of Pippi. This strong-willed pig-tailed character made her first appearance in 1945 in the books of Astrid Lindgreen. The books were a phenomenal success, both in Sweden and around the world. In 1968, the first live-action feature was made with Svensk Filmindustri. Lindgreen maintained tight control over her creation. In fact, today the 89-year-old author still holds script approval rights.
Lindgreen’s relationship continued with Svensk and throughout, Herculean efforts were made to try to convince her to agree to an animated Pippi. She would have none of it. According to Waldemar Bergendahl of Svensk, a variety of people tried to persuade her for about 25 years but she always rejected them. ‘She d’esn’t like animation at all.’
Lindgreen finally concedes and says ‘yes’ to an animated Pippi. Catherina Stackelberg, a writer with Svensk and a friend of Lindgreen’s, and Jan Mojto, managing director of Betafilm, finally win. On an airplane to Europe, they convince her to agree to an animated Pippi.
Svensk immediately begins work on the project. Preliminary work on the film script starts and long-time partner Kirch Group from Germany joins on. Kirch Group had worked with Svensk on the live-action Pippi series.
Jan Mojto recommends Michael Schaak of the production company Trickompany in Hamburg for the animation. Bergendahl, Mojto and Schaak meet for the first time on the project in Hamburg.
January 1994 (NATPE)
Kirch Group approaches Nelvana to discuss sharing animation duties with Trickompany. Nelvana and Kirch Group had been talking for several years of the possibility of working on a project, says Michael Hirsh, chairman of Nelvana: ‘We were happy that they came back to talk to us about it.’
Nelvana joins the party and the group gets together to discuss the project. A script with Astrid Lindgreen’s seal of approval is available and discussion begins. There is disagreement about the story, stemming mostly, according to Bergendahl, from Nelvana. ‘There were a lot of comments from Nelvana that they disliked the story itself. . . . We had different kinds of opinions about the script.’
Hirsh admits to having certain concerns, but these were addressed and some minor modifications resulted.
Responsibilities are divided: The scripting is handled by Svensk and Nelvana; animation is divided equally between Nelvana and Trickompany; final production will be done in Sweden; some of the music is composed in Sweden; and Kirch Group is involved in distribution and sales.
The Swedish and German partners are concerned throughout about veering away, even the tiniest bit, from Lindgreen’s original character. ‘[The Swedish and Europeans] know exactly who she is,’ says Klaus Zimmermann, head of program coordination for the Kirch Group, ‘so if you’re making an animated film in those markets, you have to be careful not to come up with a character that is different from what people expect.’
In playing with a cultural icon, problems naturally arise, counters Hirsh. ‘It’s not so much a problem as it is working out what the issues are for adaptation from around the world.’
The group is in active production. Nelvana and Svensk work on the scripts and adaptation. All admit to problems with cultural differences. ‘I think it’s easier for us to work with Europeans,’ says Bergendahl, ‘because there is a really big difference between the culture itself in Canada and Sweden.’ But, he continues, ‘we have all come together now.’
Scripts and ideas go back and forth and the characters are fine-tuned. The group has about four meetings a year in either Toronto, Hamburg or Stockholm.
Final decisions are being made on all production details for the feature film and scripts for the television series are in development. Final approval for all of the characters, script and music is planned for mid-April. Animation begins soon after. Pippi appears at MIP-TV for the first time, where Nelvana begins pre-sales for the television series.
Evaluating the Partnership . . .
‘We have been through a very tough, but also a very fruitful fight,’ says Zimmerman. And all concur that it has been less than a smooth ride. But Pippi has come through the process unscathed and with pig tails still in tact. And while in Bergendahl’s words ‘it has been an adventure,’ it also hasn’t stopped the partners from exploring possible projects in the future.