Sony Pictures Intl. Productions, Ben Stassen, Matthieu Zeller Team on ‘Chickenhare’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Sony Pictures International Productions (SPIP) is joining forces with Ben Stassen, a veteran Belgian animation director and producer, and his producing partner Matthieu Zeller on “Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness,” an ambitious 3D-animated adventure film based on the Dark Horse comics.

Stassen and Benjamin Mousquet will direct “Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness,” whose screenplay was written by Dave Collard, based on “Chickenhare,” the graphic novels written and illustrated by Chris Grine and published by Dark Horse comics.

“Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness” is being produced by Caroline van Iseghem and Stassen at nWave Pictures, and Matthieu Zeller at Octopolis, who are rolling off the success of “Bigfoot Family,” one of France’s highest grossing films at home and abroad — across 51 territories — in 2020.

“Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness” is produced in association with Sony Pictures Animation and Dark Horse Comics. Sony Pictures Entertainment France will distribute the film and have home entertainment and digital rights in France.

The family movie is set in a lush fantasy world and follows the adventures of Chickenhare, a young hero born half chicken and half hare, who was adopted by King Peter, a famous hare adventurer. Eager to fit in and feel loved in spite of his differences, Chickenhare is obsessed by adventuring in spite of his clumsiness. One day, he embarks on an epic adventure to chase Lapin, a villain who’s just escaped from jail and is threatening his kingdom, with the help of Abe, a sarcastic turtle, and Meg, a female martial arts expert.

Zeller pointed out that “‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’ is the most ambitious film ever produced by nWave Studios.”

“Ben Stassen and Benjamin Mousquet form an extraordinary pair of experience and creativity. They have gathered a team of passionate talents to bring this new franchise to screens,” said Zeller. Prior to teaming up with Stassen in 2018 and setting up Octopolis, Zeller was a high-ranking executive at Studiocanal.

Zeller, who has developed ties with U.S. studios and independent film groups through his career, told Variety that the film’s screenplay was originally developed by Sony Pictures Animation.

“We discovered this great screenplay which had not been pursued by Sony Pictures Animation and felt that it had so much potential, and is perfectly in line with the type of animated films we want to make which can appeal to the entire family and have enough depth to engage audiences of different ages, as well as the right amount of comedy to be entertaining,” said Zeller, who added that the screenplay was then reworked by Stassen and Mousquet.

The film is now in production and is expected to open in theaters in 2022, in both 2D and 3D versions. “Matthieu Zeller and his team at nWave are top-notch. We couldn’t be more excited about our collaboration with them on this picture,” said Laine Kline, head of Sony Pictures International Productions.

“We are thrilled to distribute nWave Pictures’ next film! Matthieu Zeller’s teams always create powerful stories and wonderful universes that seduce French audience,” said Stéphane Huard, the president of SPE France.

Under the deal signed with the producers, Sony Pictures Entertainment will also have the possibility to acquire remaining territories. Octopolis is handling international sales. Territories pre-sold include Belgium (Belga), Poland (Monolith Films), Russia and CIS (Volga) and South Africa (Filmfinity).

Besides “Bigfoot Family,” Stassen and Zeller’s joint track record includes “The Queen’s Corgi” which traveled around the world in 2019. Stassen’s nWave Studios, meanwhile, is also behind “The Son of Bigfoot” and “Sammy,” among other European animated hits. The producers are known for being able to deliver quality family entertainment with reasonable budgets in the 20-million range. Unlike other animation companies, nWave and Octopolis are not outsourcing the animation work to foreign third-party banners. Everything from the development, to the production and post-production is done in-house at their Belgian and French studios. Their current slate includes the co-production of a spinoff series based on “The Queen’s Corgi” with Studio Redfrog.

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