Cannes: Global Competitors Emerge in Animated Film Market

Tianjin North Film Group's "Legend of a Rabbit: Martial of Fire"

More than 200 projects from outside North America are looking for buyers as international productions look to challenge Hollywood dominance.

In territories around the world, most prominently in China, local productions are making box office gains, clawing back a share of their home market from Hollywood. But when it comes to animation, the big American studios: Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky still dominate the market. Take a look around the Marche, however, and this seems to be changing. The Last Elf of the Orient, Space Dogs 2, Marzipan Spirit, Jitterbug - those are just a handful of the more than 200 projects from outside North America that are looking for buyers and for a piece of the global animated pie.

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“Of course you can't compete on the same level as a Pixar or DreamWorks film but there is plenty of room below that top tier for animated movies made outside the states,” said Martin Moszkowicz, head of film and TV at Germany's Constantin Film, who are producing the upcoming 3D animated feature Tarzan, an action-packed take on the classic jungle tale. The film, being sold in Cannes by Mr. Smith Entertainment, has already closed for most of the world and is expected to sell out in the coming weeks. The feature is being produced in English, featuring the voice talent of Twilight's Kellan Lutz as Tarzan.

“Our buyers see the film as an American production, they don't judge it as German,” Moszkowicz said. “With animation there is no language or culture barrier.”

Some international companies have established themselves as forces in the animation space, such as Britain's Aardman (Chicken Run, Pirates!), in Cannes shopping its latest claymation feature Shaun The Sheep; Triggerfish Animation Studios in South Africa (Zambezia) or Luc Besson's EuropaCorp (A Monster in Paris).

But the only country outside the U.S. that has consistently produced cartoon hits – both at home and abroad - is Japan. Case in point: Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, which grossed $275 million worldwide and won the Oscar for best animated feature of 2002, beating out Ice Age. In most other territories, animation remains largely a cottage industry given the high cost and advanced technical skills needed. But many countries have subsidized animation ventures, aiming to build up an industry from the ground up to compete with Hollywood and create jobs.

No nation is probably more eager than China to create the next Pixar. China's Tianjin North Film Group has arrived at the market touting the second film in its Legend of a Rabbit franchise. The first film was a notable flop though. Rather than retreating, the company is doubling down. The sequel has cast Xu Zheng, star of 2012 Chinese box office hit Lost in Thailand, to voice a character. 

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"China has the largest potential animation audience in the world, and we are thrilled to be at the forefront of this thriving industry with the Legend of a Rabbit franchise," said Elliot Tong, head of international distribution at Tianjin North Film Group. "Our government recognizes the importance of grooming the Chinese family movie market with a special emphasis on setting a goal for the annual box office market share of family/animated films to rise over 10 percent of the annual box office. With a year-on-year increase in revenue in the animation sector specifically, we look forward to playing our part in a rapidly expanding slate of homegrown Chinese animated films strong enough for both the domestic market and the world market as well."

Meanwhile, in Cannes, another emerging Chinese animation player, Mili Pictures, is selling its first animation project, Dragon Nest - Rise of the Black Dragon, adapted from a popular Asian role playing game.