Teen sumos, listless rabbits and neurotic quads: it was an animated MIPCOM…

Despite the abundance of toons at this year's MIPCOM, popular opinion seemed to be that much of it would have been better left unmade. BBC Children's head of acquisition and co-production Theresa Plummer-Andrews sums the feeling up succinctly: 'There's so much...
November 1, 1999

Despite the abundance of toons at this year’s MIPCOM, popular opinion seemed to be that much of it would have been better left unmade. BBC Children’s head of acquisition and co-production Theresa Plummer-Andrews sums the feeling up succinctly: ‘There’s so much crap I sometimes think, `How did they get enough money to even develop this?” Despite some duds, there were many likely tot-pleasing suspects and a few gems among the chaff, but with a 10% increase in listed programs at MIPCOM Junior, sorting through the 742-odd tapes was a more time-consuming endeavor.

The seventh edition of Junior saw a 20% increase in buyers to 406, all of whom had a preponderance for animation, which was far and away the top program category (logging 8,303 out of a total of 10,752 program screenings), followed by drama, educational and documentary programs. The three most screened shows (all animated of course) were the pilot for Pepper’s Ghost Productions’ teen series Bus Stop, Decode Entertainment’s 3-D girls offering Angela Anaconda and The Jim Henson Company’s preschool series Construction Site.

The final delegate count at MIPCOM `99 was just shy of 10,500, and most of them were actually conducting business. Here’s a selected summary of sales, co-production news and other juicy tidbits from this year’s market:

Marking its first foray into co-production with a Korean company, DIC Entertainment has hooked up with Ameko Entertainment to produce Super Duper Sumos, a half-hour cel-animated strip starring three 1,000-pound teenage sumo wrestlers. The hefty cast members were orphaned as babies and raised in isolation by Wisdom San, an ancient Sumo master. The trio must reconcile their Sumo code of Peace, Honor and Truth (PHAT) with typical teen trials like highschool, all the while attempting to foil the evil plots of villainess Ms. Mister. Super Duper Sumos is the first of three projects DIC plans to co-produce with Ameko, a Korea-based production, distribution and merchandising company that also has offices in L.A.

Hitching a ride on the coattails of the fall live-action flick Inspector Gadget, DIC will also co-produce a new half-hour animated series based on the property with France-based Arles Animation. With a working title of GI Gadget, the half-hour toon will feature the adventures of the accident-prone detective as he joins an elite army commando unit. A feature-length telefilm will be produced as a pilot for fall 2000, and the series should launch in Q1 2001.

The BBC and Paris-based M6 have entered into a co-production with France’s Praxinos and Procidis on a 52 x 13-minute series called Wild Instinct. With a rough budget of US$5.7 million, the 2-D toon takes a comical peek at animal life beyond the for-human-eyes-only habitat displays at the local zoo. The series will launch on BBC and M6 in fall 2000.

Children’s Television Workshop is going into production on preschool CGI short series Tiny Planets in the middle of 2000. A co-pro with U.K.-based Pepper’s Ghost Productions, the quirky toon stars a pair of intergalactic travelers who slingshot to different worlds on their couch.

CTW is also working with Showtime producer Rick Duffield on a foursome of book-based TV movies for prime-time family audiences, to be released on a quarterly basis. The four 90-minute flicks-adaptations of Elizabeth Enwright’s Thimble Summer, Jules Verne’s The Long Vacation, British story Adam of the Road and Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses-are the first of an eventual 12 family films planned. Lastly, CTW is partnering with London’s Zenith Entertainment (of Byker Grove fame) to develop a mall-based soap for nine- to 14-year-olds. The team is currently in negotiations with writers, and hopes to be able to pitch West Mall in six months.

Canadian conglom Nelvana is looking to establish itself as a prime-time animation specialist with a new trio of teen/family-targeted projects in development, such as Committed, a toon series based on a same-name comic strip penned by Michael Fry. Described by VP of Nelvana International Europe Emmanuèle Pétry as ‘an older Ally McBeal with a family,’ the series carries a budget of US$375,000 per half-hour episode, with 13 eps initially planned. Nelvana has signed Peter Dhung to direct an animated feature film version of Barbarella, and is in the early concept stages on another prime-time series called When Quads Won’t Leave, about a motley crew of neurotic disabled people co-habitating in a nursing home.

Canada’s Decode is branching out even further into live action with a 13 x 30-minute co-pro called Our Hero, which has already been picked up by CBC and Showtime in Canada. Written by Zack Files scribes John May and Suzanne Bolch, Our Hero stars a 17-year-old girl whose father uses her adolescent experiences as fodder for his newspaper column once too often. The angry girl retaliates by launching a `zine via which she expresses her own opinion with no holds barred. Slated for a fall 2000 delivery, Our House is being co-produced with Toronto-based Heroic Pictures. Executive producer Decode will distribute the series internationally, targeting teen services like Flextech’s Trouble. Decode is developing another live-action series, which it hopes to release in fall 2001.

According to Decode producer Neil Court and Alltime Entertainment’s Simon Vaughan, Carole Postal’s New York-based licensing boutique has picked up the U.S. merchandising rights for Watership Down. ITV is airing the series three times a week this fall, and Vaughan says the show has a combined 30% share.

Decode also used MIPCOM `99 to pitch new products The King, a traditional cel-animation concept from Funbag Studios, and Rabbitt in the Hole (working title), a puppet series in development with Granada TV and Canada’s YTV.

Ina Fichman, producer with Montreal’s La Fete Productions, scouted co-production and co-financing opps for kids and family dramas including: Peter Piper and the Plane People, a promising Gerald Potterton 3-D preschool series; live-action family adventure The Mysteries of Blackrose Castle about two young boys in spooky Old Scotland; and Princess High, a ‘fish out of water’ tale about a foreign teen princess obliged to adopt American nuances to fit in. Fichman says Canadian financing could include a distribution advance from sister operation Mediamax International, Quebec production tax credits and gap financing from FIDEC.

London-based Eva Entertainment is working with Penguin Books, France Animation and Canada’s Studio B (who’s bringing in a Canadian broadcaster) to develop a preschool series called Something Else. Based on an illustrated book written by Chris Riddell and Kathryn Cave, the 26 x 12-minute series targets kids ages five to nine with an Odd Couple-esque story about two misfit best friends trying to live together peacefully. With a budget of US$4.3 million, Something Else is slated to go into production in January, and both the BBC and ITV have expressed interest in airing the series in the U.K. Also on Eva’s slate is Ouaaahh!!!, a half-hour special from Lava Lava creator Frederico Vitali, being co-developed with BBC Bristol and Canal +. With a rough budget of between US$650,000 and US$800,000, this family-targeted special centers around a trio of alien tourists who crash-land in the middle of a rural farm on Earth. Laid up for repairs, the social visitors interact with the local animals, grossly misjudging their importance to the planet. Ouaaahh!!! layers 2-D characters over 3-D backgrounds, with Paris animation studio Dubois doing the 3-D work.

Also generating some buzz, not to mention weird pronunciations, was Mamemo (ma-may-moe), a new preschool animation series based on first sounds kids make around the world, which distributor Dargaud-Marina says ‘was their most-screened product at MIPCOM Junior.’ Created by Mameli of Corsica, the music-driven shorts about a little child and the tot’s pet cow (which takes on many shapes and fulfills many roles in Mamemo’s play) is being produced at the Tapage Nocturne Belgium studio. Canada’s YTV was the first buyer for its Treehouse service. There is an English and French version, and 26 three-minute eps will be ready for fall 2000, and 52 by 2001.

Harvey Entertainment and Canada’s Mainframe have a CGI direct-to-video based on the Casper property in the works for a Halloween 2000 release. Penned by the writers behind hit kids series Weird-Ohs, the new vid’s storyline follows the banishment of Casper and crew to a small town that embodies the tackier side of Christmas. The idea is for the DTV to remain on store shelves for both holidays, theoretically doubling its sales. Harvey is also planning a live-action Baby Huey preschool series to launch sometime in 2000 or 2001. Canada’s Studio B will partner on the project, along with an as-yet-unnamed Japanese prodco. In other kids news, Harvey Home Entertainment and Universal Studios released two classic Harveytoons specials in late October entitled To Boo or Not to Boo, for Halloween, and

A Very Merry Casper Christmas, for the holidays.

Furthering its goal of diversifying into non-family product, Harvey has signed a letter of intent to purchase PM Entertainment Group, an international production and distribution company, for about US$10.5 million in cash and Harvey stock. ‘This gives us a library of 150 feature films and an existing distribution operation which we can use for our non-family product,’ says Rick Mischel, president and COO of Harvey.

BKN International has been incorporated as a separate company based in Cologne, Germany. The new entity’s immediate goal is to trigger production in Europe so that within two or three years, 50% of the BKN catalog will be comprised of European fare. State-side, BKN and an as-yet-unnamed French partner are heading into production shortly on a 40 x half-hour, US$14-million series called Kong for fall 2000.

It was back to the drawing board for the other pitches, and literally, that’s all the news that fits to print.

An initial 26 half hours of Sony Wonder’s book-based series Rainbow Fish will debut on HBO Family in February 2000. The underwater adventure show for the four to eight demo is a co-pro with Canada’s Decode and Germany’s EM.TV & Merchandising.

And finally, this year’s MIPCOM Junior Market Simulation yielded a promising project called Three Lads for teens and young adults. The 52 x 23-minute concept, pitched by Spain’s Cartoon Productions, stars three flatmates-who have human bodies and animal heads. Rasta (a trouble-prone lion), Rowlins (a depressed and listless rabbit) and Duck (a boogie-loving hipster) cope with life on their own, running into exaggerated bachelor SNAFUs like a load of dirty socks coming to life and giant mutant mushrooms taking over the apartment. Cartoon Productions is looking for partners to pitch in the remaining 50% of the project’s US$5.5-million budget.

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