Year-long marketing campaign and 617-screen opening catapults Bibo Bergeron’s A Monster in Paris into second place in the French box office chart for first five days on release. Events included live concert featuring Sean Lennon and Vanessa Paradis.

Bibo Bergeron’s feature-length animation A Monster in Paris finally hit French theatres last week, six years after the director first started developing the project on his return to France from Hollywood where he made Shark Tale.

EuropaCorp, which boarded the project in late 2009, has pulled out all the stops to ensure the success of its first family-oriented, 3D, CGI picture since the final instalment of Luc Besson’s Arthur trilogy last year.

“This is an important film for us but it is also a significant movie for the French film industry as a whole in that it’s a French-produced animation by a French director competing with CGI movies from the likes of Dreamworks, Disney and Pixar,” said chief marketing officer Franco de Cesare.

Set against the backdrop of the flooding of central Paris in 1910, the story revolves around the relationship between beautiful cabaret singer Lucille and a monster on the run from the police.

Singer-actress Vanessa Paradis voices Lucille opposite actor Gad Merad and French pop star Mathieu Chédid in the French version and Adam Goldberg and Sean Lennon in the English-language version.

EuropaCorp scheduled the release for Oct 12 to coincide with the mid-term school holidays which start on Oct 21, as well as to avoid clashing with Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn which comes out Oct 26 in France.

“It was a very competitive week. There were four big movies opening: A Monster, The Artist, The Three Musketeers and Beur sur la ville,” said de Cesare.

Marketing manager Benjamin Cléry-Melin, who has been working on the picture for almost a year, kicked off the public campaign shortly after Cannes.

“We wanted awareness of the film to be very high by the end of the summer,” he told Screen. “We needed to be wherever the kids were.”

To that end, the first trailer was in cinemas as early as the end of May to benefit from the release of Kung Fu Panda, followed by Cars 2 and The Smurfs.

In June, the company targeted professionals at the Annecy Animation Festival with a screening of the trailer and performance by pop star Chédid, who wrote the soundtrack. 

“Mathieu soundtrack is a key component of the film and we’ve played on this throughout the campaign,” said Cléry-Melin.

In mid-August, a nationwide poster campaign, including prominent placements in 750 train stations, kicked off across France.

On Aug 28, as families returned home after the summer break, EuropaCorp organized 300 sneak preview screenings across the country, generating some 17,000 admissions in one day.

“Internally we called it the ‘Monster day’. It was a way of generating some early buzz,” said de Cesare. “We picked a date when we thought the kids would be back in the cities with some spare time. We wanted to get kids talking about it in the playground.”

The campaign culminated with 110 pre-screenings across France, followed by a live concert by Paradis, Chédid and Lennon at the Trianon Theatre in Montmartre, on the Saturday before the release.

“The concert was broadcast live into all 110 theatres. If negotiations go to plan, we hope it will be a bonus feature on the DVD.”

Thus far, the high-profile marketing campaign appears to be paying off.

On day of its Oct 12 release on 617 screens, A Monster beat The Artist to take first place in the 24-hour box office chart, benefitting from that fact that children do not go to school on Wednesday in France.   

Over the weekend, during which France enjoyed un-seasonally warm weather, the picture slipped into second place with 300,283 admissions, behind The Artist with 366,162 entries on 295 screens, but ahead of other big openers The Three Musketeers and Beur sur la ville.

The film is expected to build over the holiday period.

A Monster’s next challenge is its international release.

“We’ve already taken it to a couple of festivals,” said de Cesare. “We had a great screening in Toronto in the TIFF Kids section and we also did an amazing open-air screening at Busan last week attended by 4,000 people.”

In Europe, the picture has already opened in other French-speaking territories such as Belgium and Switzerland and is set to roll out in the first quarter of 2012 in territories including Germany (Universum), Scandinavia (Scanbox) and the UK, where it was picked up by Entertainment One during Toronto.

North American rights are still under negotiation. EuropaCorp does not want a repeat of its highly publicised falling out with The Weinstein Company over the release of the Arthur and the Invisibles and is looking for the right partner.

“We’re still in talks,” said De Cesare. “Monster isn’t an art-movie, it’s a family-oriented mainstream movie which requires a proper release and a proper p&a budget and that is what is under discussion. We’re looking for the best partner.”