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July 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 7




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Hollywood ToyBoy: The French Connection

New Animation Opens [French] Doors for More Toys


“Over the next five years, there won’t be a kid in the world that won’t have a Disneynature stuffed animal.”
“Why did it have to be the French?” Yeah, yeah ... we all joke about Parisians’ rich food and snooty attitudes, but who doesn’t want to see the City of Lights? Me, that’s who.

I buzz my executive assistant’s assistant: “That’s a red-eye on top of a red-eye! Can’t you get a different ticket?” But, lo and behold, that’s the only business class super-saver they have (this may be Hollywood, but we do try to save our pennies ... if never go coach).

Forget Cannes, I was going to France because of the toys.

FRANCE, NOT JAPAN?

“Japan has always been No. 1 on the show-to-toy ratio,” explained a patient entertainment lawyer who was taking a break from corporate raiding to talk to me at the latest and greatest Hollywood glitterati greasy spoon. “The Japanese are crazy about animation and toys ... even more than we are. But the French have a long history of luxury things, and deeper pockets than God. Just check out Canal + —; they’re bankrolling everything.”

“The French have always thought they were the best at everything, but particularly culture,” tossed in a studio exec in mid-chili fry. “They’re one-upping ‘Cars’ with “Louis La Chance,” a CG-animated film about the Monaco Grand Prix. Shax France and LuxAnimation are doing it, and they’re gearing up for marketing up the wazoo.”

Everywhere I turn it’s French, French, French.

FROM CEREAL TO THEME PARKS

“‘Cereal Heroes!’” blurted a critic buddy of mine over her third Manhattan. “Another French CG feature. Spark Animation Studios is doing that one for 2010. Superhero breakfast cereal. Go figure. They have some Americans working on it, but can you imagine the merchandizing tie-ins?”

And movies aren’t the only thing.

“Canal J is buying up ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation,’” she added. “Virgin 17/MCM picked ‘One Piece’ from Toei Animation — with a whole new dubbed cast, and ‘Sheldon,’ the CG-animation kiddy romp is finding a home there, too. It’s an avalanche, and toys upon toys are coming out.”

“Don’t forget ‘Captain Biceps,’” rattled off a worldly animator colleague who has schlepped all over the world being on-site for overseas shows. “That’s a comic-book-turned-show that Futurkon, the French producer/distributor, is making. They’ve already got mock-ups of the toys and are going into pre-production ... and the first animation hasn’t even been started.”

The biggest eco-friendly, merchandise geyser of them all? Disneynature, the Mouse Factory’s biggest new launch in awhile. The new documentary arm of the big D will see a French production unit roll out a slew of nature films, just like Walt used to make ... only bigger, badder and with more toys and huggy things than you can shake a Prius at.

“It’s going to be massive,” touted my Disney contact. “Gigantic. Jean-Francois Camilleri, who had been SVP and GM for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures France, will head the new unit. We’re jumping into it with both feet and even expanding our theme parks with eco-minded rides and shops. … It’ll be like the Nature Store on steroids. And what parent can say no to ecology and science? Over the next five years, there won’t be a kid in the world that won’t have a Disneynature stuffed animal. And it all starts in France.”

And so, carry-on in hand, laptop over my shoulder, comfy shoes ready to slide off and an iTouch crammed with movies, I call a cab for the airport and the flight to Paris, brushing up on my “Bonjour” as I go …



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Writer's Bio: Mark Zaslove is an entertainment industry veteran in developing content (writing, directing and producing television and feature films) for the major studios, including Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing and recipient of the Humanitas Prize (for writing uplifting human values in television and movies), Mark is also Head of Content Development for Nice Entertainment. Read more articles by this author

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