Plans have been revealed for the release and possible franchise of Luke and Lucy - The Texas Rangers one of the most ambitious animated features ever produced in Benelux.

The $12.8m (Euros 9.5m) CGI film is set for a holiday release on July 21. In a first,the filmwill be released simultaneously throughout Benelux on over 200 prints with a Dutch, Flemish and French version being made available. The film is being released by Kinepolis in Belgium and Bridge Entertainment/RCV in Holland.

Directed by Mark Mertens and Wim Bien, Luke and Lucy is based on the Suske and Wiske cartoons created by Belgian comics author Willy Vandersteen in the mid-1940s.

The cartoons sell over four million comic book albums a year and still appear regularly in newspapers. The film has been produced by Belgian outfit Skyline, better known for live-action dramas such as Hell In Tangiers and The Intruder.

Skyline is now planning to turn Luke and Lucy into a franchise. If the first film reaches targets, further adventures will quickly follow. The Luke and Lucy adventures involve time travel and parodies of American movie genres. Future sequel ideas include a Pirates Of The Caribbean-style swashbuckling romp as well as a James Bond meets Planet of the Apes style adventure.

‘The comic strip is very lively - it’s action, adventure and lots and lots of humour,’ producer Eric Wirix commented. ‘Vandersteen was ahead of his time with this tongue in cheek humour he put into his albums especially in his best work, which was at the end of the 50s and early in the 60s.’

$6m (Euros 4.5m) of the budget for Luke and Lucy came through the Belgian tax shelter system which has been credited with giving an enormous boost to feature animation in Benelux.

The question now is whether the tax shelter system will be renewed. Local producers are confident that the system will be maintained but most acknowledge that the global economic crisis is bound to affect the amount that will be invested through the shelter.

‘If the tax shelter would go away, that would be a catastrophe - no less.’ Wirix commented. ‘For Belgian cinema as a whole, it would be a huge blow.’

Luke and Lucy will be completed by May. Wirix is expected to bring footage of the film to the Cannes market in May. The producer has raised the possibility that Skyline may negotiate directly with potential distributors rather than follow the traditional route of appointing an international sales agent.