This year Cartoon Forum was filled to the brim with three things: nature, scary/spooky content (think ghosts and monsters—or a popular phrase here, “Stranger Things for kids”) and shows for six to 11s.
At the annual pitch event in Toulouse, France that ran from September 16 to 19, six to 11s dominated with 43 projects geared at the demo. In comparison, only 24 projects targeted preschoolers, 10 reached out to teens and tweens, while just seven were aimed at the whole family. But the numbers may be deceiving.
“This year, there’s a lot more [pitches] saying six to 11, but when you get in and watch the content it’s still very young,” says Nina Hahn, SVP of international production and development at Nickelodeon. “I would love for people to have a better sense of what six to 11 really means, the trends and what kids are really watching, because people are calling [a show] six to 11 but it [often] sits at the bridge of four to six or it’s preschool.”
What’s more, producers looking to capture an international audience (increasingly important in this new global SVOD world), Hahn says they need to better understand what a global versus a regional six-to-11 looks like, as there are differences everywhere.
Many of the proposed projects at this year’s event are playing around with style. While 3D/CG animated content is currently popular on screens, most of the screenings were 2D in nature (58%) versus 3D/CG (26%). Several pitches worked in a bit of live-action footage—such as Dublin-based Turnip & Duck’s Critters TV, and Ghost Town from Ireland’s Piranha Bar and Dear Will—or had a graphic novel feel, like Italian prodco Graphilm’s #In the Middle.
“I saw Misstache from [Paris-based] Normaal, which really is trying to be graphically different. It’s really nice and you appreciate when animation is really making the most of [the medium] by taking the graphics and stretching them into a place that’s quite different from what you’d get from a 2D incarnation,” says Hahn.
While the focus on visual styles helps to set each pitch apart, it may drive some buyers away, cautions SuperRTL’s deputy program director and head of acquisitions & co-productions Frank Dietz.
“I think if you compare [2019's festival] to more traditional years, you can see that shows are driving more towards a niche market,” he says “You have a lot of shows that are very specific, that are very daring from the producers—but that make total sense.”
He called out Xilam’s Lucy Lost, TeamTO’s We Are Family and again Normaal’s Misstache (pictured) as daring pitches that went against the grain of what’s currently on air for kids. Cartoon Forum is always full of surprises he says, and even if going niche seems risky, “I think the time of real mainstream are over.”
Even though the market is in a big period of transition, producers took that as an opportunity to take risks rather than play it safe, which BBC’s recently appointed head of acquisitions and animation Sarah Muller said she was excited to see.
“In the past I’ve seen quite a lot of generic ideas, but this year people seem to passionately care about and have a real idea of what their show is,” says Muller. “That’s exciting. If you just flip through the catalogue, it’s all really, really different ambitions and styles.”
Nature, ghosts and ghouls, oh my!
Nowhere were the different styles more apparent than when seeing multiple pitches on the same topic. Many companies tackled ideas around nature, for example, but Daily Madness’ 2D, artsy-paper look for Pins and Nettles contrasted well against UK-based Flickerpix’s show Cara on the Case, with its 3D/CGI characters and foregrounds mixed with 2D backgrounds and scenery.
And, as if the festival was already prepping for Halloween, there were several ghostly pitches, including Ghost Town, Prima Linea Productions’ Hotel Strange and Wolkenlenker’s Spookies, all with unique apparitions.
Wrapping up the event was the 2019 Cartoon Tributes, which fit well with this year’s focus region of Wallonia-Brussels, as Belgian broadcaster RTBF’s children and family channel OUFtivi won broadcaster of the year at the 2019 Cartoon Tributes (with 40% of the vote over the other nominees), which take place on the last day of the Forum. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Telegael won investor of the year and Belgian prodco Panique won producer of the year with 60% of the vote.