CANNES — Bowing at MipJunior both Season 3 of CG animated megahit “The Adventures of Paddington,” targeting free-to-air sales, as well as brand new toon titles such as “How To Squoosh” and “Scarlet Rose,” European powerhouse Studiocanal, owned by Vivendi’s Canal+ Group, is powering into the kids IP and premium series business, marking its most significant expansive strategic move since initiating premium TV production.
This supercharged kids TV drive looks set to play out in multiple ways at this year’s MipJunior trade fair, which unspools at Cannes over Oct. 13-15.
In one milestone move, on Oct. 6 top exec Françoise Guyonnet was named Studiocanal CEO Copyrights Group and EVP Kids’ Brands. Her appointment came just two days after Studiocanal unveiled a big new potential franchise, CGI animated series “Miffy.”
In another strategic departure, Studiocanal, working hand in hand with parent Canal+, is also growing a sales slate of premium but smaller animation IPs – “How To Squoosh,” “Smarty Pants” are two examples – which can command an international audience.
In a third departure, again in synch with Canal+, Studiocanal has started financing kids’ series targeting early-ish teens such as “Scarlet Rose,” based on Patricia Lyfoung’s best-selling graphic novel series “La Rose Ecarlate” of female swashbuckler thrillers, and “The Baker Street Four.”
Studiocanal’s big, big European IPs also take in “Paddington” duo Studiocanal and Heyday Films’ movie adaptation of the Swedish “Pippi Longstocking” children’s book series, currently under ongoing development.
Announcing Guyonnet’s dual appointments, which takes effect Jan. 1, Studiocanal declared they marked “a confident move for the studio which wishes to accelerate growth in children’s IP.”
Reasons abound. Well-known IP is, of course, a huge help for an animation series, said Guyonnet: “Having characters that people who look after small children are familiar with and grew up loving themselves, means they are very happy for their children to enjoy them too so they can once again relive their childhood.”
The drive into children’s IP comes as Studiocanal is readying the release of the highly awaited feature “Paddington in Peru” in cinemas worldwide in 2024, “Paddington” and “Paddington 2,” released in 2014 and 2017 have grossed a combined $510 million in cumulative global box office revenue, a record for Studiocanal movies and an extraordinary sum for non-studio films.
Announcing Guyonnet’s appointment Studiocanal noted that it has also successfully distributed kids’ series such as “Sammy” and “Esther’s Notebooks” all around the world, as well as films such as “Shaun the Sheep,” “Ernest & Celestine” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Growth of children’s IP business represents, moreover, a diversification of income, Studiocanal noted. This has become a mantra for Canal+ Group Chairman & CEO Maxime Saada.
“I don’t want to be dependent on a single market,” Saada explains. “My number one concern is how to help Canal+ survive the coming decades. That means reducing dependencies on any specific content, on any specific geography and on specific audiences,” said Saada, the recipient at Mipcom of Variety’s 2023 Vanguard Award.
Canal+ and Studiocanal have already diversified and fortified its sports and documentary offer. The kids business packs exciting growth potential.
To grow it, Studiocanal can also bring to the table its formidable arsenal of direct distribution in big theatrical markets such as France, U.K., Germany and Australia/New Zealand. Its sales operation is one of the most formidable in the world.
“Europe has IPs. But they haven’t always enjoyed a global reach,” Guyonnet told Variety. “One of our ambitions is to identify brands, identify IP, which can have this global reach. We think that we know how to support IPs globally. That’s what we want to do with ‘Pippi Longstocking’ and ‘Miffy’ now,” she added.
Canal + Animation Lights a Fire: ‘How to Squoosh,’ ‘Scarlet Rose’
Canal+ animation shows are also catching notice in the sector, brimming in invention and class, lighting a fire at June’s Annecy MIFA market.
Studiocanal is working “more and more” with Christine Cauquelin, director of program units and documentary channels, youth and animation at Canal+, to distribute Canal+ titles internationally, said Guyonnet.
Guyonnet said she was “very excited,” for example, with “How to Squoosh,” adapted from Catherine Leblanc and Roland Guarrigue’s book and produced by Toonfactory for Canal+, which weighs in as a novel animated kids talk show.
In it, young Chloe, the chief Squoosher, and Spooki, the pretty cuddly monster she is trying to tame, act as a “ghoulamorous” duo of M.Cs helping other kids find ways to “squish-squash-squoosh” their fears. Its first episode turns on a monster under the bed.
“Every kid is frightened of having a monster under their bed in the night. The episode shows how you can deal with that in a very funny way. It’s really entertaining with a little bit of education, but very light,” Guyonnet observed.
Driving into IPs, Studiocanal aims to increase not just the number of shows but also launch truly ambition titles. “My motto is always quality over quantity. We don’t want to have too many projects. The idea is really to have the best ones and to spend time, money, creativity on some very interesting banner projects that we want to develop.”
Adapting IPs, “it is important to make a series relatable and relevant to today’s world,” Guyonnet added.
That sometimes comes with more recent properties, such as “Scarlet Rose,” produced by Label Anim for Canal+, and written by Claire Paoletti, Marine Lachenaud, Marie de Banville, Joana Goldschmidt, Laure-Elisabeth Bourdaud, Marie-Agnès Gaudrat and Eva Fusani.
A story of female empowerment set in the 18th century, “Scarlet Rose” turns on a young lady who, when her father is assassinated, vows vengeance on his killers. “It’s adventure and very female driven,” says Guyonnet.
In another Studiocanal title at Mipcom, “Smarty Pants,” three naive, clumsy kid friends, tired of being unpopular ever since kindergarten, determine to do whatever it takes to turn things around and become cool, whether triumphing as vid game champions or forming a rock band.
Multiplying their kids shows does help Canal+ and Studiocanal in their own mission of leaving no age group unaddressed as Canal+ has targeted younger subscribers, both kids and young parents of kids, creating a cut-price Rat+ offer for under-26 subscribers offering Canal+, Disney+, Netflix, Paramount+ and Apple TV+ for under €20 ($21.2).
Staying True to IP Values: ‘The Adventures of Paddington’
The key, however, in adapting established IP is “to stay true to the values of the IP but at the same time make a story which makes sense today,” Guyonnet says.
In its Season 3, “The Adventures of Paddington,” a double Daytime Emmy winning series, still turns on a younger Paddington as he writes letters to Aunt Lucy recounting with enthusiasm new things he has discovered through the day’s adventures in London.
Its tones are vintage late ‘50s. It incorporates a host of new characters such as, intros season, Simi, who is a little girl wh is hard of hearing.
In Ep. 1, Paddington and Simi go on a fantasy trip through the human body – “It’s a funny thing if you take a closer look, Aunt Lucy,” he writes – after Simi swallows an apple pip and is worried a tree will grow in her tummy.
But the values remain from Michael Bond’s original books, Guyonnet argues. “When Studiocanal CEO Anna Marsh gave her keynote at MipTV, she recalled a phrase that Paddington says: ‘Be kind and the world will be all right.’ That is a really strong value and makes sense as much today as 65 years ago.”