Annecy International Animation Fest: 5 Can't-Miss Highlights

Courtesy of llumination/Universal
Illumination/Universal’s 'The Secret Life of Pets' will have a preview screening.

The sleepy French village again plays host to mix of high-profile previews (the Alec Baldwin-voiced 'Baby Boss'), charming shorts (Pixar's 'Piper') and even geek royalty (Guillermo del Toro).

Any Disney princess would be at home in Annecy, France, with its castle overlooking a crystal-clear lake and snowcapped mountains as a backdrop. But jeans and T-shirts rule over glitz and gowns at the most prestigious international event dedicated to animation, home to a rowdy crowd that cheers, stomps and whistles its approval.

So when Disney, DreamWorks Animation and Illumination Entertainment descend each June (this year's festival runs June 13 to 18), the sleepy village transforms into the white-hot center of the cartoon world, hosting world premieres, sneak peeks, previews and panels and playing host to a bevy of Hollywood heavyweights. Make sure to pencil in these five draws:

1. The Big Premiere

Illumination and Universal will world-premiere the star-heavy The Secret Life of Pets, the follow-up to their $1.16 billion global box-office hit Minions. Voiced by Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate and Steve Coogan, the feature reveals what our furry friends do after humans leave during the day. That formula has worked well for Illumination, which has offices in Los Angeles and Paris. "Not only is this the premier animation event of the year, attracting a global audience of our peers, but it also takes place in France, where our studio is based and where many of our filmmakers are from," Pets producer Janet Healy tells THR. "Annecy offers us a tremendous opportunity to be local and global simultaneously."

2. The Masterclass

Festival newcomer Guillermo del Toro will take audiences on a trip to Arcadia, the fictional small town on his animated series Trollhunters. "Annecy is the mecca for animation lovers," del Toro tells THR. "It is a festival I have long wanted to attend to meet kindred spirits. I'm delighted." The director will present a masterclass on the development of Trollhunters, which began as a feature film and eventually found a home as a Netflix original series. The Oscar nominee is the creator and executive producer of the show about best friends who discover a fantastical world lurking below their small town.

3. The Previews

In addition to a first look at the July sequel Ice Age: Collision Course — the latest from Fox Animation and Connecticut-based Blue Sky Studios — DreamWorks will screen Boss Baby, from director Tom McGrath (Madagascar). Annecy audiences will get a look at the comedy, which features Alec Baldwin as a fast-talking toddler, a full nine months before its U.S. release. … Disney's musical fantasy Moana, about a young girl who journeys to find a magical land with the help of a mythical demigod (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), also will screen ahead of its November release. The film is the latest outing from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin directing duo Ron Clements and John Musker.

Fox and Blue Sky Studios will unveil 'Ice Age: Collision Course.'

Disney’s 'Moana' features the voice of Johnson.

4. The Shorts

Shorts always have been a large part of Annecy's program, and this year is no exception. Disney will screen first-time director Leo Matsuda's Inner Workings, which centers on the battle between a man's practical brain and his heart, which yearns to be more spontaneous (think Inside Out for the over-10 set). … Brave and Wall-E animator Alan Barillaro will be on hand for his directorial debut in Pixar's Piper, a six-minute short that follows a baby sandpiper with the most inconvenient of problems: a paralyzing fear of water.

5. The Competition

A month after women made a relatively strong showing in Cannes, with three films in competition and a jury prize for American Honey helmer Andrea Arnold, Annecy's feature competition boasts a sense of diversity. Two female-themed titles — Ann Marie Fleming's debut, Window Horses, voiced by Sandra Oh and Ellen Page, and Penny Lane's Sundance sleeper hit Nuts! — will compete with an array of international releases including Yeon Sang-ho's South Korean zombie thriller Seoul Station. Rounding out the competition are titles from as far afield as China, the Philippines, New Zealand and, for the first time, the United Arab Emirates. Says festival artistic director Marcel Jean: "We see an important [diversity] in the films that were submitted. It's a very positive sign for animation."

Annecy International Animation Film Festival | June 13-18 | Bonlieu National Theatre

This story first appeared in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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