How were successes like Tadeo Jones or ’Chico and Rita’ achieved?
Research by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) studies the evolution of animation in Spain over the last four decades. The article focuses on feature films released between 1985 and 2021 and identifies the phases of industry in this period.
Previous studies identify two previous boom stages in the sector. The first is during the 1930s and 40s, when ’Garbancito de la Mancha’ (’The Little Chickpea from La Mancha’) (1945) was produced, Europe’s first colour animated feature film. The second covers the 60s and stands out due to the boost that Moro Studios gave to animation through their advertising. Its activity also contributed to the further development of television series production.
In 1985, coinciding with the release of 'La calabaza mágica' (’The Magic Pumpkin’), the third golden age of animation in Spain began, the end of which cannot be determined yet. The study "An Age of Splendour for Contemporary Spanish Animation: Evolution of an Industry Over the Last Four Decades", carried out by Mercedes Álvarez San Román, a lecturer in UC3M's Department of Communication and member of the TECMERIN research group, analyses this last period. The article has been published in Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, a world reference on animation studies.
The research establishes three distinct phases: germinal, take-off and consolidation. "This subdivision is based on the premieres of feature films that have represented a turning point in the sector, both in terms of their production system and funding, their subject matter, their distribution and their impact on other productions", says the researcher.
The germinal phase includes the 16 feature films made between 1985 and 2000. In this period, the regional and multi-regional cinema that emerged in the political, social and cultural context of post-Transition Spain stands out. Some of the newly created Autonomous Communities helped to promote the animation production with the aim of familiarising the new generations with the co-official languages, traditions and legends of the area. This generated a fabric that favoured the production of the first 3D feature film in Spain and Europe, 'Megasónicos' (’Megasonics’) (1997). Regarding this production made in the Basque Country, Mercedes Álvarez San Román points out that "it was made with two computers and the cinematographic language it uses is still close to that of 2D, with limited camera movements and cartoon-style deformations of the characters' bodies".
The take-off phase begins with the release of 'El bosque animado' (’The Animated Forest’) (2001). It covers the period between 2001 and 2008, during which 38 animated feature films were produced. One of the factors that increased production was the creation of new television channels, which led to an increase in demand for audiovisual content and, in addition, increased the possibilities for funding, as they were required by law to allocate five percent of their profits to film production. Another factor in the boom was the establishment of the video market, which opened up a new avenue for the amortisation of films. The economic boom and global trade were also key. The films from this period went beyond the regional sphere and titles on national themes were released, such as 'El Cid: la leyenda' (El Cid: the legend) (2003).
The last phase is consolidation and begins with the release of 'Planet 51' (2009). In the period between 2009 and 2021, 66 feature films were made and Spain became the second largest producer of animation in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. These years are notable due to the emergence of large transnational productions and the emergence of animated films for adult audiences. During these years some of the most successful films were produced both nationally and internationally, such as 'Chico and Rita' (2010), 'Arrugas' ('Wrinkles') (2011), ’Las aventuras de Tadeo Jones’ ('The Adventures of Tadeo Jones') (2012) or 'Klaus' (2019).
"The animation sector in Spain is characterised by its low production costs and the high number of projects carried out entirely with funding from within the country. This development has had an impact on the public visibility of animation. It has gone from being a peripheral production, not only geographically, to achieving box-office successes and high levels of export", concludes Álvarez San Román.
This analysis is part of the R+D+i project "Cinema and television in Spain in the era of digital change and globalisation (1993-2008): identities, consumption and forms of production", whose lead researcher is the lecturer Manuel Palacio, from the Department of Communication. It is funded by the Spanish State Research Agency.
Álvarez San Román, M. (2022). An Age of Splendour for Contemporary Spanish Animation: Evolution of an Industry Over the Last Four Decades. Animation, 17(3), 302’317 . https://doi.org/10.1177/17468477221114367