“Little Nicolas,” the nostalgic, hand-drawn ode to the popular French children’s book series and its creators — René Goscinny (“Asterix”) and the late illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé — won the Grand Prize at the fifth annual Animation Is Film Festival (AIF), held last weekend at the TCL Chinese 6 Theaters in Hollywood. This should help the France-Luxembourg release from directors Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre secure U.S. distribution.
“My Father’s Dragon” (Cartoon Saloon/Netflix), the 2D adaptation of Ruth Stiles Gannett’s classic children’s book, from Oscar-nominated director Nora Twomey (“The Breadwinner”), took home the Special Jury prize. This provides some heat as Cartoon Saloon chases its fifth Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination.
The Audience Award went to “Aurora’s Sunrise,” the animated documentary from director Inna Sahakyan, which tells the remarkable story of Aurora Mardiganian, who survived the Armenian genocide as a teenager, and came to America, where she starred in a 1919 silent Hollywood film based on her survival of the massacre that slaughtered 1 million Armenians. The film is Armenia’s official submission for the Best International Film Oscar. The Portuguese “Ice Merchants,” won the Shorts Jury prize. Directed by João Gonzalez with a spare yet striking hand-drawn style, it’s about a cliff-dwelling father-son on a precarious adventure.
The author of this article served on the feature competition jury, which was chaired by Peter Debruge, chief Variety film critic. The other members included Laika director Chris Butler (“Missing Link,” “ParaNorman”), Locksmith Animation co-founder Julie Lockhart (“Ron’s Gone Wrong”), animation critic/historian Charles Solomon, Sony Pictures Animation producer Christina Steinberg (“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse), and Animation Magazine editor Ramin Zahed. The shorts jury consisted of Maureen Fan (Baobab Studios), Frank Gladstone (ASIFA-Hollywood), and Jade Seaberry (DiverseToons).
“Little Nicolas,” winner of the Cristal Award at Annecy, weaves a meta story around legendary cartoonists and best friends Goscinny and Sempé and their beloved creation, who goes on a series of playful misadventures in Paris of the ’60s. The French-Luxembourgish co-production is in search of American distribution and was animated using a Chinese ink-wash animation style, inspired by the look and texture of Sempé’s original illustrations. Anne Goscinny, daughter of the original author, adapted the screenplay with Michel Fessler (“March of the Penguins”).
“Co-directors Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre have crafted a wonderful hand-drawn tribute to French cartoonists René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé,” said Debruge. “By adapting the duo’s distinctive style to animation, they have not only brought these beloved characters to life but also revealed the lesser-known lives of the artists responsible for their creation.”
With “My Father’s Dragon,” Twomey explores the power of imagination and the autonomy of children with a colorful and polished animation style by Irish-based Cartoon Saloon. It’s about the rite of passage experienced by the restless Elmer (Jacob Tremblay), who runs away to Wild Island and bonds with a dragon named Boris (Gaten Matarazzo) in need of confidence building.
“Director Nora Twomey and the talented team at Cartoon Saloon honor the look of Ruth Stiles Gannett’s classic children’s book while bringing their signature touch to this well-crafted and visually compelling kids’ movie, which seems ideally suited for the medium of animation,” added Debruge.
Animation Is Film, founded by GKids and the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, closes with a special presentation of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (Netflix) on October 29 at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Del Toro will participate in a Q&A with Oscar winner Phil Tippett (“Jurassic Park”), who released his own stop-motion passion project, “Mad God,” this year.