After having been successfully adapted into a pair of live-action movies, “Le Petit Nicolas,” based on the popular series of French children’s books from the ’60s, will be back on the big screen in an auteur-driven, hand-drawn animated feature directed by Gilles de Maistre (“Mia and the White Lion”) and Amandine Fredon.

Le Petit Nicolas, une enfance rêvée” (“Little Nicholas,” working title), the film is being produced by French animation powerhouse On Entertainment (“The Little Prince”), in co-production with Foliascope (“The Tower”), Luxembourg’s outfit Bidibul Productions (“A Cat in Paris”) and Canada’s Kaibou. Charades, the banner behind the Oscar-nominated “Mirai,” is handling international sales and will introduce the project (currently in pre-production) to buyers at Cannes.

“Little Nicholas” marks the first 2D animated feature undertaken by Aton Soumache at On Entertainment, whose credits include the Cannes-premiering, BAFTA-nominated “The Little Prince” and the upcoming “Playmobil: The Movie.” Foliascope is the company launched by animation veteran Pascal Le Notre, who previously co-founded Folimage and has a track record including the Oscar-nominated 2D film “A Cat in Paris.”

Created by the author Rene Goscinny and the New Yorker illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempe, “Le Petit Nicolas” follows the adventures of a mischievous little boy and his school buddies, teacher and parents in Paris in the 1960’s.

The feature, written by Anne Goscinny, the daughter of Rene and a critically-acclaimed author herself, and Michel Fessler (“March of the Penguins”), will work on two levels, aiming to entertain kids as well as adults with two narrative threads — one of which will follow Nicolas and his surroundings, based on the graphic novels; and another one which will follow the lives of Goscinny and Sempe when they created “Le Petit Nicolas” and brought the little boy to life.

Both storylines intertwine as Nicholas playfully interacts with his creators, Goscinny and Sempe. The story of “Little Nicholas” mainly takes place in Paris in the 1960’s but will also sail to Buenos Aires or across the Atlantic through the tale of the authors’s life.

“Goscinny was able to infuse the story with anecdotes and memories she has of her father and Sempe,” said Soumache. “Together with Michel Fessler they form a complementary duo, just like Gilles de Maistre and Amandine Fredon, and Pascal Le Notre and I; it’s about combining strengths and different animation and storytelling traditions,” said Soumache.

The producer said the ambition with “Little Nicholas” was to create a “touching, poetic, family-driven feature with a modern resonance, some depth and universal themes that can speak to children and adults.”

“Little Nicholas” will boast a unique look with a Chinese ink wash animation aimed at reproducing the aesthetic of Sempe’s illustration. Soumache said the feature was in development for four years as the producers looked for the right animation process to get the desired visual style. Ultimately, they opted for traditional hand-drawing and Chinese ink wash. “We’ll need about 1300 liters of Chinese ink and three tons of Canson paper to make this film,” quipped Soumache.

Soumache will attend Cannes along with Charades to discuss with potential distribution partners, including a Chinese company. Charades has handled several high-profile animated features before, notably Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai” which was nominated for an Oscar this year; and “The Queen’s Corgi.”

“We dived into this project after seeing the first animated sketches and were blown away completely by them (…) The property of ‘Le Petit Nicolas’ is very popular internationally and it fulfils our mandate to bring out quality movies that appeal to a wide audience,” said Pierre Mazars, co-founder of Charades. Mazars pointed out Aton Soumache has produced some of the best animated films in France, and said Gilles de Maistre was one of the prolific and talented directors with a know-how in making family films that travel around the world such as “Mia and the White Lion.”

Part of Mediawan, On Entertainment recently made the acquisition of the revered French illustrator/author Joann Sfar’s production company Nice Pictures (“The Rabbi’s Cat,” “Little Vampire”). Meanwhile, On Entertainment is launching a label dedicated to arthouse animation, On Classics, which will kick off with the upcoming production of “Little Nicholas.”

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