Norway’s hugely popular fictional pirate character Kaptein Sabeltann (Captain Sabertooth) is now shifting course from stage to screen with a new action film that previewed at the Cannes Film Festival last month. The film, called Kaptein Sabeltann og skatten i Lama Rama (Captain Sabertooth and the Treasure of Lama Rama), is the most expensive children’s film ever made in Norway and looks likely to be distributed around the world.
It cost NOK 50 million (USD 8 million) to make and has already been sold to one of the biggest film distributors in the world, Walt Disney, which has had some experience with pirates like Captain Hook and Jack Sparrow. Disney now sees strong prospects for the Norwegian Kaptein Sabeltann, according to its local unit Walt Disney Nordic.
“We had really good experience and great success with Reisen til Julestjernen (Journey to the Christmas Star),” Disney Nordic marketing coordinator Cathrine Kanck-Vårdal, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) over the weekend. “We waited for the next right project, which popped up with Kaptein Sabeltann.”
DN reported that the film has also attracted bids from potential distributors in nearly 70 countries, who want to secure the rights to sell the film in their own markets. If all the contracts are signed, Kaptein Sabeltann could run off with treasures indeed.
Kaptein Sabeltann is the brainchild of a former Norwegian teacher, Terje Formoe, who wrote the original storyline for annual open-air summer plays at the popular zoo and amusement park just outside the southern coastal town of Kristiansand (Dyreparken Kristiansand). Its popularity for the past 25 years among Norwegian children has also spawned commercial successful and a whole range of merchandise.
The scary captain leads a band of pirates who sail together on a ship called Den Sorte Dame (The Dark Lady). Until now, Norwegian audiences have been more familiar with the action and storyline mainly set on sea. One of the aims of the new film is to reveal another aspect of Sabeltann as he regains his “land legs” with the action set outside his normal habitat. The film also recreates an illusion of 1700s-style pirate life filled with action interlaced with humor. Although Norwegian-made, filming took place in Thailand, Morocco and England.
The film was produced by Norwegian Storm Films with a mainly Norwegian cast and NOK 15.2 million in support from the Norwegian Film Institute. The role of Sabeltann is played by Kyrre Haugen Sydnes and the film was co-directed by Lisa Gamlem and John Andreas Andersen.
Sailing the Seven Seas
Formoe, never too far from his creation, has written the film’s script but insists that the directors have had “the last word.” The new film owes much of its success to the original concept of the plays. The popularity of an animated Kaptein Sabeltann TV series also exposed the pirate to international attention, and fulfills two of Formoe’s aims.
“I have never hidden the fact that I have two goals with Kaptein Sabeltann,” Formoe recently told newspaper Aftenposten. “The first is to make it a success in Norway and then expose it to a wider, more global audience.”
The path to Cannes was not, however, entirely trouble-free. The idea of having a children’s favorite based on what many consider to be an essentially evil character has been criticized in Norway. But it was a disagreement with the management of Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park in the 1990s that Formoe identifies as a low point in his career. The conflict became so bad that he once relocated the annual summer show from Kristiansand to Asker. The resultant media speculation made things seem impossible and at one stage, he thought of abandoning the project altogether.
25th anniversary season
He stuck with it, though, and remains committed to the basic concept of his product whether it is theatre- or film-based. He insists the fairy-tale element of his product should still remain recognizable to its core audience. The zoo in Kristiansand, meanwhile, is now promoting 25th anniversary performances of Kaptein Sabeltann this summer.
The new Kaptein Sabeltann film, the first in a planned trilogy of Sabeltann films, will premiere to a Norwegian audience in August at the Haugesund Film Festival, on the west coast of Norway, and is due for release in Norway on September 26. The two additional films may be set in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic.