'Planet 51' grew from roots at AFM

Animated pic may stand out as a successful market alum

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A poster for a Spanish-U.K. animated co-production about an American astronaut who lands on a planet only to find it populated by aliens who are happily living in a white picket fence world, stands outside one of the suites at the Loews.

But the project, titled "Planet 51," is about to stand out a lot more than the two giant posters being tripped over by buyers going into HandMade Films International's offices here.

The American Film Market is certainly the market place where small acorns occasionally grow into large oaks, and "Planet 51" is certainly a product of that system. "Planet 51" grew from passionate Spanish filmmakers, ambitious British co-producers and a script being hawked at the AFM and other markets, and ended up as $70 million worth of animated ambition.

The animated pic, co-produced by Spain's Ilion Animation and the U.K.'s HandMade Films, is spending its second year in the AFM halls. And it may yet go into the AFM hall of fame as a hugely successful alumnus.

Not only have AFM attendees regularly trooped past the sales suite, but if they switched on their television sets they would have seen trailer ads during breaks in all the top shows and event programming, including the recently wrapped World Series.

The film opens here Thanksgiving weekend on 3,500 screens via Sony, has a P&A spend that roughly matches its $70 million budget and could do for HandMade what "Twilight" has done for Summit.

HandMade Films chairman Patrick Meehan, at the center of his company's activities, said "Planet 51" puts a stamp on the level of ambition he and his label have to produce family entertainment at the highest level.

"It puts us in the big league. I think it has to be the biggest non-American animated project to come out in America on this scale," Meehan told The Hollywood Reporter.

By the time AFM rolled around, the project had pretty much sold out around the world and the U.S. deal with Sony was struck, not at the AFM, but away from Santa Monica event.

It was negotiated after the project's original Hollywood connection, New Line was dismantled.

Meehan said the big U.S. studio deals are seldom struck here during the AFM but it is an ideal place to do smaller territory deals. "With the big ambition films, they just get done directly," Meehan said.

The film is being handled in most major territories via a tapestry of the biggest names in non studio distribution, including TF1 in France and Entertainment Film Distribution in the U.K.

HandMade also is in preproduction for "Eloise in Paris," the long-gestating project based on the children's books for a shoot in the new year, recently struck a joint venture with National Geographic Kids Entertainment, and also swallowed up U.S. animation studio Animation Collective to fuel its ambitions.
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