Nickelodeon And Paramount Tease Animation Slate, Including A Rad TMNT Movie And The Next Avatar Project [Annecy 2022]

The Annecy International Animation Film Festival may have the words "film" and "festival" in its title, but it's much closer to something like San Diego Comic-Con, a place where recruiters go look for industry hopefuls, and where both artists and studios go to showcase their upcoming projects. But unlike SDCC, Annecy shares much more of a peek behind the curtain at the creative process.

From Disney to Sony to Netflix, every major studio was present. Not to be left behind, Nickelodeon and Paramount also took to the French alpine town to give audiences a glimpse at their upcoming titles. While the TV side had a big focus on trying to recapture the feeling of '90s Nickelodeon by ... rebooting old shows like "Rugrats" and "Sponge Bob," the movie side looks more promising. From continuations of fan-favorite franchises, to radical reboots and hilarious reimaginings, /Film got early looks at the new Nickelodeon films you should be excited about.

The Avatar returns

Get ready for the year of the Avatar. Not only is James Cameron gracing our screens again with the next chapter in his epic sci-fi tale "Avatar," but Nickelodeon recently confirmed that we're getting not one, not two, but three new films in the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" universe. Excitingly, the films are being overseen by "Avatar" creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, serving as co-chief creative officers, and the first film will be directed by Lauren Montgomery, who did storyboards on "The Last Airbender."

Since the film is still in early development, not much was shown. Still, audiences at Annecy were delighted with the first piece of concept art on Montgomery's film. The concept art was accompanied by a short clip that started with the symbol of each of the four elements that comprise the logo of Avatar Studios, along with the caption: "The Avatar is Back." 

As for the concept art, it showed what looked like an Earth Kingdom fortress in a misty mountain range, quite similar to that of General Fong's fortress. At the bottom of the image was a symbol for the element of Earth.

General Fong's fortress appears in the first episode of Book Two of "The Last Airbender," where Aang learns about the Avatar state. Though we don't know how the image plays into the story of the film, if at all, the use of an Earth symbol could seem to indicate it might focus on an Earthbending Avatar, the most famous of whom is Avatar Kyoshi. Born 300 years before Aang, Kyoshi only appeared a couple of times in the show, but made a huge impression as a badass female warrior that defeated a whole army on her own. The book "The Rise of Kyoshi" by F.C. Yee and Michael Dante DiMartino tells her incredible story, which could make for an exciting and action-packed film. Avatar News reports that the three animated projects will be a prequel about Kyoshi, a film about Fire Lord Zuko, and a film set in the "Legend of Korra" era, though these rumors are currently unconfirmed.

A kid-friendly Mel Brooks film

Director Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King") was present to introduce the next film from Nickelodeon and Paramount, "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" which hits theaters on July 17, 2022. We got to see a 7-minute clip of the film, in which a dog voiced by Michael Cera is assigned to be a samurai warrior protecting a town populated by nothing but cats. In the clip, the dog tries to find someone, anyone, to teach him how to be a great warrior. Though he doesn't find that, he does find a grizzled old samurai cat that loves to mock him, played by none other than Samuel J. Jackson.  

The film, which was previously titled "Blazing Samurai," is reportedly loosely based on the classic Mel Brooks comedy "Blazing Saddles." Indeed, the plot of a dog tasked to protect a town full of cats that hate his guts is reminiscent of Brooks' subversive film, and the fact that the comedy legend is lending his voice to the film is excellent news.

As for the actual footage, it resembles "The Bad Guys" or the new "Puss in Boots" in its blend of 3D animation with 2D textures, with action scenes clearly inspired by anime. Like Brooks' movies, it features a lot of anachronisms, with a flashback to what looks like the 1940s complete with an Art Deco aesthetic and a jazz dance number. Though brief, the clip showed that you always want Samuel L. Jackson to play an annoyed old man in your movie, with his deadpan line deliveries getting huge laughs from the Annecy crowd.

The turtles go punk

From "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" director Jeff Rowe and producers Seth Rogen and Adam Goldberg comes the new reimagining of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Though details on the movie are quite scarce, we did get a brief "peek under the shell" of the film, with Rowe describing the film as focusing more on the "teenage" part of the TMNT. Through a video message, Rowe explained how the look of the new film was inspired by sketches he made on the margins of his school notebooks, and how those tend to be very punk-like, with exaggerated features, lots of spikes, and random effects lines. 

In the very, very brief bit of animation we saw of the film (about 10 seconds), "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" delivered on that promise. We see one of the turtles trying skating on an empty street, and quickly slipping and falling to the ground. The visual aesthetic takes on a rough, hand-drawn look despite its 3D-CG animated characters, with a layer of 2D effects like those in "Arcane" that accentuate the rad mind of a teen. It's punk, it looks like it was made by a teenager bored in school, and it looks very funny.

A dark fantasy based on Chinese mythology

From director Raman Hui ("Shrek the Third") comes "The Tiger's Apprentice," a fantasy action film inspired by Chinese mythology. Starring Michelle Yeoh, Sandra Oh, Bowen Yang, Lucy Liu, and Jo Koy, the film follows a young boy who discovers he has magical powers, and is joined by the human forms of the different signs of the Chinese Zodiac who teach him to control his powers.

During the presentation, we saw a clip where the protagonist, Tom, meets the human form of the Tiger while fighting off evil shadowy beings. The clip promised a film full of magic and martial arts, an animated throwback to fantasy adventures of the early '00s that has been sorely missed.

"The Tiger's Apprentice" is set to be released on December 20, 2023.