Inspector Mouse is a new animated series, based on the book illustrated by Ralph Steadman and written by Bernard Stone. The 26 x 26-minute series, which is being co-produced by PMMP in France and Ravensburger Film + TV in Germany, is set in 1940s America and based on the adventures of a mouse detective and his rodent friends. To make the series, the production team modified the characters in the book (which was originally meant for a more adult audience) to appeal to teenagers, although both parties think the series will attract adults as well as teenagers.
Partners: PMMP, Paris, France
Ravensburger Film + TV, Ravensburg, Germany
Rooster Studio, Paris, France
France 2, Paris, France
How the partnership began:
There’s a convoluted history to this association. The project had originally been developed in 1993 by Jimmy Murakami and Aidan Hickey from Alegro Films in Ireland, with Rooster Studio in France, which together form part of the studio grouping ARA (A Film in Denmark is the third part). They’d planned to make it as a one-off adult special, but after managing to raise ECU40,000 for a pilot from Cartoon and taking that to the Cartoon Forum in Inverness in 1993, nothing seemed to be happening and the project was in limbo.
Murakami approaches Ravensburger, which has heard of the book and is interested in the project. As Ravensburger had a good relationship with PMMP over Transylvania Pet Shop, which they had co-produced together in 1993, it decides that this could be another project for a co-venture, so Rolf Ernst, head of acquisitions at Ravensburger, starts talking to Philippe Mounier, president of PMMP.
PMMP takes over the project from Alegro in order to develop it further and put together the funding. The creative development is jointly undertaken by PMMP, Alegro, Ralph Steadman and Ravensburger. Francis Nielsen, who owns Rooster Studio, is the art director and Jimmy Murakami becomes the artistic supervisor. Aidan Hickey, Murakami’s partner at Alegro, is appointed to write most of the scripts. Additional characters (the youth gang) are created to make the concept more suitable for children/family entertainment. During this period, rights negotiations start with Andersen Press, the publisher of the book, which take months to complete.
A broadcaster is needed to help raise financing, so a deal is made with Canal+, but is not signed at this stage because France 2, which has expressed interest in taking the second window, has not yet committed to the project. France 2 is reluctant to become involved at this juncture because the show seems too adult-targeted. PMMP therefore decides to develop Inspector Mouse with Ravensburger as a teenage series.
PMMP and Ravensburger reach a creative level with the project that all the parties participating in the development are happy about.
March 11, 1996
PMMP sends its first proposal to Ravensburger outlining a possible deal structure, which is followed by numerous phone conversations, as well as a meeting in PMMP’s office in Paris.
Late March 1996
PMMP and Ravensburger start detailed discussions about how to realize the project. Says Mounier: ‘We [PMMP and Ravensburger] got along so well when doing [Transylvania Pet Shop] that, when developing Inspector Mouse, the idea of limiting the series to two co-production partners was contemplated. However, we felt that [fewer] partners and no German broadcaster attached to the project meant a bigger financial involvement from each partner, which required a carefully balanced deal structure to limit the financial risk and optimize the recoupment of investments.’
After PMMP has worked on the development of the project, Inspector Mouse is again presented to France 2, which agrees to take it as a second window after Canal+.
France 2 is ready to sign the co-production agreement, but this does not go totally smoothly. In the interim of this stage, a new head of children’s programs at France 2, Rachel Kahn, comes on board, which delays the show. She is reluctant to take it at first, as it is part of the previous executive’s slate. Subsequently, she agrees to take it, but she doesn’t want to wait a year while Canal+ shows it first, so the series is pulled from Canal+, allowing France 2 to take it for the first year. Now, a second broadcaster is needed, and Arte, which is based in France and Germany, is given an option to screen Inspector Mouse one year after France 2. Arte agrees to take it provided it can have the same window in both countries.
May 18, 1997
PMMP and Ravensburger sign the co-production agreements. Each party will distribute the program in certain territories (Ravensburger will handle the German-speaking territories, Eastern Europe, the Nordic territories, Benelux and English-speaking Africa, and PMMP will distribute the series to the rest of the world).
The partners devise a way of limiting the risk and optimizing the recoupment structure. PMMP has put in 75% and Ravensburger 25% of the US$5.5-million budget for the series. They agree to participate in each other’s revenues, thereby sharing the benefits and burdens in the different markets.
The production process starts. Aidan Hickey begins writing scripts and pre-production starts at Rooster Studio. Ralph Steadman’s approval of characters is sought throughout.
Rooster Studio produces the main storyboards and the partners move into an intensive writing phase.
PMMP embarks on a 16-week run of animation, coloring and compositing, after which it is able to produce an episode a week. PMMP uses its studio at Pipangi, the Reunion Islands, which is 20 minutes from Mauritius, to do all the ink, painting and compositing. Rooster Studio provides some of the pre-production work.
The first episode is delivered to PMMP. The production process continues at rate of one episode a week.
Inspector Mouse is taken to MIP-TV, where it is presold to RTBF in Belgium, TSR in Switzerland, Multivision for Latin America, TV Azteca in Mexico and the Irish state channel Irish TV-RTE.
The last of the 26 episodes is delivered to PMMP. Ravensburger has had approval of all key elements and has been widely involved in the creation of models and backgrounds, as well as the script editing process.
Evaluating the partnership
Both parties are happy with the way things have worked out. Rolf Ernst says that ‘the close and extremely positive cooperation between PMMP and Ravensburger on all levels of this production suggests that this could become a formula for further projects to be set up and done together in a similar way.’ The challenge of this series for both groups has been to respect Steadman’s style, which was done by seeking his approval throughout. ‘There is only a 20-page book, so it’s been a lot of work to develop that further,’ says Mounier. Both parties think they’ve achieved something original. ‘The project ideally combines action and comedy elements in a kids- and family-friendly concept, while maintaining the ironic style and the references to the American detective movies of the `40s from Ralph Steadman’s book,’ says Ernst.
Marion Nihon, head of children’s acquisitions at RTBF in Belgium, prebought the show on the strength of the first episode last July-the first episode was screened on RTBF on August 31. She was drawn to the ambience of the show, which she describes as a mixture of Columbo and Humphrey Bogart, and to the music, which is very jazzy.
She bought the show because it was an original concept, and she needed something for children between the ages of eight and 12. ‘It had all the right ingredients for us: police intrigue and suspense, but crucially, no violence.’ Added to that, the design and style are unusual. A further attraction was Ralph Steadman’s work, which is universally known.