Cartoon Saloon's Louise Bagnall Announces Details of Her Debut Album "Julián"

Cartoon Saloon is currently developing "Julian," the debut feature from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Louise Bagnall ("Late Afternoon"), based on Jessica Love's picture book "Julian is a Mermaid."

"I've never adapted anything before," the director told Cartoon Brew about her next project. But when "Julian the Mermaid" was brought to the studio by David Yate's Wychwood Media, Bagnall looked over the material and was convinced that "it was a project I could be passionate about and one that would speak to me artistically, visually, and thematically." More importantly, it was something I wanted to spend years of my life working on."

As part of the development process, the studio contacted author and illustrator Jessica Love to discuss the book's design. According to Bagnall, "In terms of visuals, the book is a great starting point. It's so vibrant and ...... It was really exciting to explore the world. It allowed me to expand my world."

Since Love's book is a fairly short story, the team decided to stretch the timeline of the story to make it easier to expand it into a feature-length animation project.

"(The book) is one lovely afternoon ...... We dug a little deeper and expanded our scope and time frame as well," Bagnall explained, noting that the film takes place over the entire summer and includes more adventures shared by Julian and his abuela.

The official synopsis of the project goes like this:

An eye-opening Julien spends a summer of discovery in New York City with Abuela. Almost strangers, they settle into tense conversations and new adventures. The colorful chaos of Abuela's world and the stories she tells him awaken something in Frián. Frián's journey takes him from the streets of Brooklyn to the bottom of the ocean, across the diaspora, through the ups and downs of generations. Through the world of abuela, Frián explores his identity, gender expression, and the hidden legacy of his family.

In typical Cartoon Saloon fashion, Bagnall and her team decided to add an additional fantastical element. He meets a mermaid goddess, "a mermaid who is a goddess of the mermaid world. The film also stays true to another of the studio's tenets: traditional animation. It has a hand-drawn feel."

Bagnall has directed several short films, including the Academy Award-nominated Late Afternoon, and recently assistant directed Nora Toomey's My Father's Dragon for Netflix. He has yet to direct a feature film, but has been working for years on developing "Julian" with screenwriter Juliani Taveras.

While "Cartoon Saloon" is known for its exploration of expressive visuals, Bagnall feels it is important to get the story right first. We have artists and are concerned with making the visuals look good. I wasn't worried about that; I knew we would get there with the visual development.

Cartoon Saloon partnered with Folivari, Sun Creature, Aircraft Pictures, and Wychwood Media to produce Julián. Although production has not yet begun, Bagnall feels the team can speak confidently about the project. I think we're practically at the end of our development period right now," he said. We haven't finished development yet, but we are very much preparing for the next step, which is pre-production."

Thematically, "Julian and the Mermaid" explores the protagonist's awakening of gender expression. Bagnall feels that the beauty of the book is that it is "not prescriptive. It allows the audience to project their own feelings and experiences onto it. "

One of the reasons the original work resonated so deeply with her is the approach of learning to ask questions and explore things." It's something that feels authentic. For many children, there is an age at which they explore things. There is an age at which gender expression becomes a big part of that." [For a character like Julian in this film, Bagnall said, "it's an opportunity and an important opportunity to show that there is expression, there is exploration, there are questions he is beginning to ask, there is a desire to know more about his own needs and his own desire to express himself." [We're] talking about something that actually affects a lot of people. So I think between the writers, myself, and the different members of the team that are going to be involved, we can collaborate and talk about these things as we make the film, so we can get a better way of not just coming at this from a one-sided perspective," he continued.

Director Bagnall said that while "Julian" is aimed at an audience around the age of the pre-adolescent protagonist, "Julian's journey will be something that many older and younger adults will relate to. This is because how does something like this express one's identity, one's cultural identity, how do things grow ...... questions will and do come up."

Bagnall and Cartoon Saloon plan to pitch Julien at the French event Cartoon Movie in March.