Exclusive: Watch the opening from "Juliet & King," a hand-drawn feature from Hoorakhsh Studio in Iran

A couple of years ago, The Last Fiction became the first Iranian animated feature to qualify for an Oscar. Having successfully made its mark overseas, the studio behind the film, Tehran's Hoorakhsh Studios, is launching into its next project: the family comedy Juliet & the King.

The story follows Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, ruler of Iran, as he embarks on a trip to France. There, he falls for a young theater actor, and invites her back to his country in the hope of winning her heart. Like The Last Fiction, Juliet & the King is directed by studio founder and CEO Ashkan Rahgozar. Cartoon Brew is delighted to premiere the trailer, which shows the film's opening minutes, below:

Students of Iranian history will recognize Naser al-Din Shah Qajar as the long-serving monarch who reigned in the second half of the 19th century. The events in the film are not historical, but the story is true to Naser al-Din's passion for the arts. By focusing on his patronage of European culture, Juliet & the King tells a tale of cultural contact between East and West.

“Unfortunately, international people are looking at Iran from a political point of view; all the news is bad and toxic,” Ragozar tells Cartoon Brew. “Yes, we have lots of political, social, and economic problems. But Iran is a great and beautiful country with great history and amazing people who have a great culture. I want to note that there are lots of beautiful things that people around the world can learn from and remind each other about.”

The film is in production, with Rahgozar's brother Arman serving as producer. The team of 40-odd artists spent more than six months training in the film's Disney-inspired animation style, which is markedly different from the look of The Last Fiction. The studio also “improved our pipeline with strong layout panels to control super detailed scenes of the film,” says Rahgozar.

In true Disney tradition, Juliet & the King is a musical. It will feature 11 original songs by Iranian songwriter Meysam Yousefi and composer Behnam Jalilian. Says Rahgozar: “The style of the music is like the art and the way of thinking of the Qajar dynasty: something eclectic, like European pop with a mix of Iranian traditional music and instruments.” The team plans to record English versions of the songs as well.

Here is a bit more about the film's story:

Hoorakhsh has put up 80% of the budget itself and is looking to secure the remainder. The studio is working toward a summer 2023 premiere, and is searching for international distributors and sales partners.

Meanwhile, it is forging ahead with production on yet another feature, the ecological fantasy adventure The Dragon's Treasure. Read our report on the film's pitch at Annecy last month.

Concept art from Juliet & the King and the poster are below: