An animated film tells how “Le Petit Nicolas” was born from the abused childhood of Goscinny and Sempé

On the one hand, a beaten brat carried his sketches to Paris under his arm; on the other, an exile whose family has been crushed by anti-Semitism: for Goscinny as for Sempé, creating the Little Nicola it was a way to heal his wounds. The creative process behind the essential little hero of children’s literature is at the heart of the film Le Petit Nicolas, what are we waiting for to be happy ?, in cinemas on Wednesday 12 October.

For this animated film aimed primarily at adults, directors Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre were able to meet Sempé before his death this summer, 45 years after that of René Goscinny.

Away from the idealized France of the 1950s, their film shows how they drew inspiration from their intimate wounds and bruised childhood to create the mischievous little boy, best friend of generations of readers and sold 15 million copies.

When he met Sempé in Paris in the 1950s, Goscinny was a young man who was already spinning his head: he left as a child in the late 1920s in Argentina with his parents when anti-Semitism arose in Europe, then traveled to the United States, where dreams of working with Walt Disney, and in particular meets Morris, the creator of Lucky Luke, and France.

Sempé, is a boy from a working-class family from Bordeaux, beaten by his stepfather and goes to Paris, with a drawing board under his arm, to try his luck. The love for drawing is therefore not the only thing that unites the two young people.

The creation of Little Nicolais a story of resilience, of two boys whose childhood was stolen, one by the Holocaust and the other by a violent stepfather, and who will create this dream childhood of little Nicolas“Benjamin Massoubre explained to AFP during the Annecy Festival.

Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny in the animated film

The opportunity to show these two accomplices in a different way, pencil in hand, sometimes at home, sometimes on the terrace of a café, with the voices of Alain Chabat and Laurent Lafitte of the Comédie Française. Goscinny, appears there as a globetrotter, “very far from his image of a franchouillard in slippers“, while Sempé is a lover of jazz and music.

The first sketches, the choice of the name, almost by chance, thanks to an advertisement for the wine merchant “Nicolas” … The film traces the genesis of what will become one of the most widely read works of French heritage.

Extract from the animated film

The directors, who worked side by side with René Goscinny’s daughter Anne, were able to use the artists’ archives. And faithfully recreating the elegant line of Jean-Jacques Sempé, which had to be adapted to the screen, a challenge.

To be faithful to his universe, we started with his drawings and created rows: restaurants, bars, parks, trees“, To build a database in which the designers drew, explains Amandine Fredon, the other director.

It is very difficult to make Sempé “, the director acknowledges. But the bet is a winning one: the film, which won the Cristal d’Or in June at the Annecy Animation Film Festival, will allow viewers to sit at the table where Jean-Jacques Sempé created this little boy who he spoke so much to the unhappy child he had been.

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