Annecy this year is all about innovation, in animation style – seen in the villain of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” unveiled on Monday – in Europe’s push into adult animation, and even in new ways of connecting with audiences, as DreamWorks Animation has demonstrated in a joyous and packed open air screening of “The Bad Guys.”
A tradition at Annecy, the lakeside outdoor events usually serve to introduce new generations of Annecy kids and families to modern animation classics. Under Marcel Jean’s artistic direction, these are becoming ever more recent. This year’s program takes in Illumination’s Sing 2” and Disney’s “Encanto,” which both bowed in November 2021.
“The Bad Guys” is even more pristine, opening in France on April 6 to robust box office of $6.9 million through June 13, its fifth best box office result anywhere in international, behind China ($42,8 million), the U.K. and Ireland ($16.4 million), Australia ($ 11.1 million) and Spain ($ 7.2 million).
The outdoor screening took place to a packed audience running into four figures in Annecy’s Le Pâquier lakeside park.
But breaking with another tradition, it took place pre-festival on its Sunday eve.
For “The Bad Guys” director Pierre Perifel and production designer Luc Desmarchelier, who presented the film on stage at Annecy with head of character animation J.P. Sand, the screening very much marked the return of prodigal sons.
Both Perifel and Desmarchelier are French, the animated action comedy Perifel’s first feature, which has garnered not only robust B.O. but critical acclaim. “Criminals go straight — in a roundabout way — in a fun, frenetic kids’ caper,” Guy Lodge wrote in his Variety review, praising the film’s “spikier, more overtly cartoonish aesthetic”and “lively character design.”
Variety caught up with Perifel after the screening. His comments serve to underscore the unique joy which Annecy gives to animation creators, who screening at a place where they know their art and craft will be understood and appreciated, as was the case with “The Bad Guys.”
What was the idea or ideas behind the Annecy Sunday screening?
Perifel: I believe in the past, the open-air screenings usually started on the Monday evening of the festival. Since the film did so well, and because of all of the French talent behind the scenes – not just myself, but production designer Luc Desmarchelier and art director Floriane Marchix – we thought it would be a great way to kick-off the festival, and fortunately, the team at Annecy agreed. And we are so grateful that they did, in particular, to Marcel Jean and Mickaël Marin.
The film is described as one the whole family can enjoy. Annecy Festival audiences are pretty much YA, though the open air screenings skew much older. But was the audience more YA than usual or have you seen that YA audience in other territories as well?
Perifel: The turn-out for the screening was amazing. Since the screenings take place in the park, they are open to the public as a way of saying thanks to the town of Annecy. So you end up with a great cross-section of families, adults, kids and of course, animation students. The humor and style of the film definitely appeals to the YA audience so yes, I’d say the the YA crowd was well-represented!
Pretty much all reviews zero in on the humor, saying the film is very funny. Did all the jokes work at Annecy, or were there other aspects to the audience reaction that was interesting?
Perifel: I think the humor is only one aspect of what the movie has to offer and of what people usually react to. Not every joke landed, obviously, as movies play differently every time, depending on the context, the audience, the language etc. But the jokes we need to land always do, and it definitely did in this screening, as well as moments I didn’t expect people to laugh at. But I could tell the audience was so engaged in so much more than just the humor. Screening in Annecy is such a privilege, as it is done for an audience that knows and loves animation, and understands what the intent is when we try to push a character moment or in the case of ‘The Bad Guys,’ push a visual style beyond what is usually done. Everyone definitely reacted to that, and it’s a true pleasure to see it recognized and appreciated in this fashion.
What was it like, Pierre, to see your first feature film screening at Annecy, in your native France?
Perifel: When you’re 18 years old and decide to pursue your passion and become an animator, it really feels like opening the door to a whole new world. Discovering a community of people, of artists, of mentors and storytellers that was, at the time, unknown to me. I just assumed animated movies just “were.” They just existed. I had never asked myself the question of whether someone somewhere was actually creating every single frame of these movies, by hand, or with the help of a machine… And yet they would transport you, these stories. Make you dream, and feel, and travel… they would shape you, stick with you. And then, I entered this community of dream makers. And the temple of where these stories are being celebrated every year, the watering hole where all of us come to get refreshed and re-energized is Annecy. In France, my home country. I’ve had the most amazing memories here over the years as a student, as a pro, and later on as a director when we screened “Bilby.” It feels like home. It feels like a giant feast celebrating our passions. And this year, I got to screen “The Bad Guys” on the Pâquier… where anyone can enjoy it on opening night. I don’t think there’s a more transcending feeling than having the honor of sharing what this amazing team of friends and talents over at DreamWorks created with this crowd. I know it will be welcomed, respected, understood and celebrated. And I know everyone overseas is so proud that we could screen it here. Because Annecy is family before being the world most prestigious animated film festival.
Any anecdotes from the screening?
Perifel: Oh, obviously, introducing the screening on stage, in French, with my partners in crime Luc and JP, will remain one of the greatest memories of the whole adventure of making this movie. It was probably the largest audience ever to see “Bad Guys” at once, and it’s an amazingly electrifying feeling to know that this crowd will understand your joy of being French and having had the luck and honor of directing a big movie like this. Also, the screening conditions couldn’t have been any better…. I mean, the rain stopped just before it started, and the clouds revealed a beautiful full moon in the sky overlooking the Pâquier, right when playing a big bad Wolf movie. You couldn’t ask for a more magical night.
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