In theaters since Wednesday, “Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy” is an animated film which features Sempé and Goscinny facing their creation.
Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy ofAmandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre
What is it about ? Leaning over a large white sheet somewhere between Montmartre and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny give life to a laughing and mischievous little boy, Little Nicolas. Between camaraderie, arguments, fights, games, nonsense, and punishments galore, Nicolas lives a childhood full of joys and learning. As the story progresses, the boy slips into the workshop of his creators, and challenges them with humor. Sempé and Goscinny will tell him about their meeting, their friendship, but also their journeys, their secrets and their childhood.
From a documentary to an animated film
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Originally, it was to be a documentary film combining the archive videos of Jean-Jacques Sempe and Rene Goscinny to the comic stories of Petit Nicolas. Finally the project evolved and the desire to realize the whole film in animation was essential. This long-running project was only really developed and financed in the spring of 2020, when the director Benjamin Massoubre joined the adventure.
He says: “I started by getting down to a job of rewriting with Anne Goscinny to develop, in particular, the sequences which told the lives of Sempé and Goscinny and to add a maximum of biographical elements to them. At the same time, we worked on the artistic direction with Fursy Teyssier and Juliet Lawrence going back and forth on the characters, the settings and the color choices.”
What are we waiting for to be happy?
Through this film, a story of resilience and friendship emerges, hence the subtitle “What are we waiting for to be happy? “. “The heart of the film lies in the destiny of these two men who imagined a dream childhood for Le Petit Nicolas and developed humor and a sunny character to overcome the dramas experienced in childhood: the Shoah for Goscinny and violence of a stepfather for Sempé”, explains Benjamin Massoubre.
Anne Goscinny adds: “There is a word which unfortunately is a bit overused but which corresponds perfectly to my father and to Sempé. A word which could be their common denominator: resilience. One saw his family leave for hell, the he other did not receive the love that allows a child to flourish. So, they created this Little Nicolas who lives a dream childhood […].”
The director Amandine Fredon points out that the production context, in the midst of a pandemic, has reinforced the desire to make a feel good movie. “This fantasized Petit Nicolas and the humor they have developed are a positive reaction to these traumas. The film conveys this very positive message.”
The involvement of Anne Goscinny
Novelist and daughter of Rene Goscinnywhose work it manages and of which it is the sole beneficiary, Anne Goscinny participated in the screenplay, dialogues and adaptation of the film. This is the first time she has tried writing a film, at the instigation of the producer Aton Soumache.
She was supported by Michael Fessler, “a screenwriter who had the double quality of being both an immense professional and a man of rare benevolence”. As for her relationship with the directors, she collaborated more with Benjamin Massoubre with whom she took over the scenario so that everything would be compatible with the animation.
Chabat heir to Goscinny
Alain Chabat lends his voice to Goscinny. This is Anne Goscinny herself, whom he had met for Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, who requested it. She considers him “a kind of spiritual heir to my father” and adds: “It was essential that the actor who lends his voice to my father had for him as much admiration as tenderness or friendship. Here are two men who managed to weave a complicity without ever having met. We are talking about a complicity that frees itself from death.”
A very great admirer of René Goscinny, the actor was delighted to participate in the film: “René Goscinny has always been a major influence. There would be dozens of volumes to write about what he brought to comics, cinema, live or animation, entrepreneurship, humor and culture in general.”
The film contains two very distinct universes in the film: that of the world of authors and that of Little Nicolas. For the latter, the directors wanted to be as close as possible to the illustrations in the book, whether in the line or in the way of not drawing the sets entirely by leaving white surfaces. They were based on the illustrations of Petit Nicolas but also on the illustrative work of Sempé in other works.
Benjamin Massoubre comes back to the difficulties encountered: “it is almost impossible to imitate his line because he never draws the same Little Nicolas whereas in animation we need to keep an identical character that we recognize immediately. Moreover, what makes all the poetry of his drawings is their vertical formats and a film requires a horizontal format.”
The drawings have been validated by Jean-Jacques Sempe. “It gave rise to both funny and moving moments where he put his signature and appreciations on our own reproductions of his creations or on our representations of him,” recalls Amandine Fredon.