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REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland is nearing the theatrical debut of its first-ever homegrown animated feature as the small Nordic country’s animation house Caoz is set to launch Legends of Valhalla: Thor in a couple of weeks.
The CGI-animated film in stereoscopic 3D, which is based on characters from Norse mythology and opens in Iceland on Oct. 14, is also the country’s most expensive movie ever.
With a budget of around 8.5 million euros, it came in at about 10 times the average cost of movies made in Iceland, said producer Arnar Thorisson, whose Caoz, based here in the island nation’s capital, previously made two 30-minute animation projects, one of which used singer Bjork as the voice actor for its protagonist.
“We are the only company in Iceland that has done this kind of animation, but Thor is a totally different ball game,” Thorisson told The Hollywood Reporter about the project that has been seven years in the making.
While he doesn’t compare himself to Pixar founder Steve Jobs and creative guru John Lassiter or any other U.S. animation greats, he added with some pride: “I read it also took Pixar seven years to make Toy Story.”
The advantage of the long process, in his view: “The script really matured.” The adventure comedy ended up focusing on how Thor became the character that Nordic countries know so well by making him the 17-year-old protagonist.
“It ended up better for younger audiences,” argued Thorisson. “The gods we used and their powers are really important to the cultural inheritance of Iceland. We had to treat them with respect. But we created a new story.”
On its website, the film’s plot is summarized this way: “An over-confident teen with a magical weapon and a handful of imperfect gods join forces against an evil queen and her army of giants.”
Thorisson said his team worked on the film’s concept for the first two years, then spent about three years on the financing before a two-year production process. The financial crisis that led to the collapse of the banking system in the nation of around 320,000 people and its bankruptcy “almost stopped” the project, he recalled.
But an equity portion of the financing equation could be replaced in the end. The film also tapped into the 20 percent refund offered by the government for all production costs incurred in Iceland. Plus, it got support from seven film funds, including in Iceland, Germany and Ireland as Caoz co-produced the project for financial reasons and a chance to add expertise given the sheer size of the undertaking. Its partners are Irish company Magma Productions and Germany-based Ulysses Filmproduktion.
Thorisson said he doesn’t see this year’s live-action film Thor from Marvel and Paramount as a reason for concern.
“We were a bit worried first when we heard about it, but now we see it more as an advantage,” he said. “There are now millions of people all over the world that did not know anything about Norse mythology and Thor that have now become familiar with it, which lowers the entry barrier into the market for us.”
While Northern Europe is his company’s core market, Thorisson said he feels Thor is not culturally stuck in the Nordic countries. Among 55 foreign markets that the film has been sold to already for future release are the Nordic countries, Germany, Italy and Russia, he mentioned.
It has not been sold yet in the U.S., U.K. and other English-language countries though. “We don’t want to close that door,” Thorisson said, while acknowledging that “it’s really tough to sell to the U.S.,” because big studios tend to have their spots for animated fare. His business plan is not dependent on a U.S. deal, even though U.S. buyers will get a chance to acquire the property for the American and other English-language markets, he added.
Thorisson is also eyeing the animation project as the start of a franchise. He already has the next Norse mythology project, also featuring Thor and set in a time after the first movie, in pre-production and hopes for a total of three or four films.
“We will see how this one goes before putting full force into a second film,” Thorisson explained. “We hope the first film will be a success and we can get to that stage this time next year.”
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