Can Shaun the Sheep take on Kung Fu Panda? With EU’s help, maybe

With US animated films dominating – not one European animation made the box office top 30 in Europe in five years – Brussels wants to help level the playing field to ‘promote European values’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 10:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 3:16pm

Europe’s mostly low-key animated film industry needs a helping hand in taking on US goliaths like Pixar and DreamWorks – and EU regulators say they are ready to join the battle.

“We would like to concentrate on the European animation sector,” EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger tells journalists on the sidelines of the world’s oldest film festival in Venice.

“We will launch a dialogue with the major European animation studios to identify specific challenges and opportunities and agree on a joint action plan by the middle of 2017,” he says.

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While animated films are the audiovisual category with the largest European circulation, European animations, such as Britain’s 2015 Shaun the Sheep , struggle to compete with US productions.

Between 2010 and 2014, not one European production made it to the top-30 list of animated films in Europe by admission, overshadowed by hits such as Frozen (2013) and Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012).

US animated films routinely become global blockbuster franchises, including the Kung Fu Panda, Toy Story and Shrek films, whereas European animated films tend to be independent art-house productions.

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Oettinger admits “funding for culture is not easy to ensure because our member states have difficulties with their budgets” and that some member countries want to cut the EU’s 100 million (HK$865 million) 2017 budget for the Creative Europe programme.

“This is not acceptable. Today it is more important than ever to support culture, to support cinema, to promote our European values,” he says.

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Oettinger will this month outline proposals to bring the European Union’s copyright laws up to date and “help our European film industry thrive in the digital single market”.

Today it is more important than ever to support culture, to support cinema
Guenther Oettinger

A new “online depository” to allow easy access to, and use of, existing subtitling and dubbing resources in the EU would “be launched by the end of this year,” he says, in a bid to help films cross national borders.

“I will also promote the development of licensing hubs, online tools which allow the digital distribution of European works also in countries where they have not been released in cinemas or where there is no national distributor,” he says.

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Increasing numbers of animated films are running in and out of competition at the world’s top film festivals, with special screenings for children added at this year’s Venice of the 2016 US hit The Secret Life of Pets.