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Global Sensation Niko Goes Beyond the Northern Lights in His Third Film

Global Sensation Niko Goes Beyond the Northern Lights in His Third Film

WeAnimate 2024-02-26 | wam#0029

Animaker’s Niko films have been Finland’s most successful and critically acclaimed animated films to date, as the adventures of a young flying reindeer named Niko has captured the hearts of audiences around the world. The third installment in the series, NIKO – Beyond the Northern Lights, is just as ambitious, just as beautiful, and just as appealing as its predecessors.

NIKO – Beyond the Northern Lights is the latest installment in Animaker’s successful Niko series. The first Niko film, Niko & the Way to the Stars, was the most successful Finnish film yet made, selling in 118 countries with over 3 million cinema viewers, with an edited version airing on CBS in the US as The Flight Before Christmas. Niko & the Way to the Stars received widespread recognition, with award nominations from the European Film Academy and others, and winner of Best Film and Best Screenplay at the 2009 Jussi Awards, and the Jury & Audience awards at 2008 Cinekid, among others.

In 2012, Niko 2: Little Brother, Big Trouble continued the series with the same quality, popularity, and international success. Niko 2 aired in over a hundred countries around the world, and was released on Netflix in 2013. Like its predecessor, Niko 2 won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Tokyo Kinder Film Festival and the Giffoni Film Festival. Niko 2 also garnered studio Anima Vitae and production company Cinemaker nominations for European Producer of the Year at the 2013 Cartoon Movie Tributes.

NIKO –  Beyond the Northern Lights is poised to continue the groundbreaking success of the series, as Niko tries to earn a spot on Santa’s Flying Forces just like his father. When Niko faces challenges and setbacks, he is forced to choose between what he believes is right, and loyalty to his father’s ideas.

Each Niko film tells a complete, independent story. But, taken together, the three films form a coming-of-age trilogy. Instead of focusing on traditional Christmas themes and stories, the films are centered on Niko’s personal growth and development. Producer and writer Hannu Tuomainen says:


“The Niko stories are placed in a Christmas time and environment, but underneath they are actually emotional stories of a fatherless boy looking for his dad and family, finding his place and himself. Although the films are family friendly adventures, I think the biggest adventure of all is a kid growing up to find themselves. “The aim has been to keep the content of the stories as high and true to the complexity of real life as possible. One source of material has been my own real life experiences, which is a deep well for various subjects. These themes are universal, and they seem to connect with both children and parents globally, whether they celebrate Christmas or not.”

Of course, the Nordics, and especially Finland, have a unique connection to the stories, themes, and landscapes of Christmas. Any Finn will tell you that Santa actually lives in Lapland, and not at the North Pole. The stunning environments of NIKO – Beyond the Northern Lights are especially informed by a love of Finland’s unique locations and scenery. Production designer Mikko Pitkänen, who has designed the entire Niko universe, showcases the beauty of winter from a particularly Nordic perspective, and shares it so the world can love it too. 

Producing Films This Big is a Team Effort

The third Niko feature is being produced by the same successful team as the other Niko films, as a joint venture between Finnish animation giants Anima Vitae and Cinemaker Oy. Co-producers include Ulysses Filmproduktion, A. Film Production, and Moetion Films. While a four-country co-production always poses big challenges, it also offers a few benefits. Tuomainen notes that:


It has been a huge advantage to be able to test whether the story, script, characters, humor, and design are working and connecting with our multinational teams.

Anima Vitae has been one of the leading Nordic animation studios for over 20 years, with over 9000 minutes of aired animation. Credits range from animated features and TV series to commercials, with a wide range of original IPs. Driven by a passion for great stories and high artistic ambitions, Anima has super-efficient processes that deliver incredible value for the budget.

Producer/director Hannu Tuomainen’s Cinemaker Oy has been producing films since 1990. He has long been recognized as one of the most influential producers in Finland, twice being awarded Producer of the Year, and winning the State Award for Children’s Culture.

Germany’s Ulysses Filmproduktion has developed, financed, and produced several animated films with partners throughout Europe since 2004. Ulysses was awarded the 2016 European Animation Producer of the Year for Oops! Noah is Gone, and continues to produce exceptional films to international acclaim.

A Film Production is located in Denmark, and is one of the most prolific Nordic and European animation companies. A. Film has been producing traditional and CG animated features since the 90s, and has recently been recognized for co-producing the international success of Checkered Ninja and Checkered Ninja 2.

Ireland’s Moetion Films was a co-producer and co-winner of European Animation Producer of the Year for Oops! Noah is Gone, the studio’s debut feature. A sequel to Oops! is now in production at the busy studio in Galway, a UNESCO City of Film.

The third Niko film is not only made with the same team of co-producers. It also has many of the same key creative artists who have worked on the entire series for 15 years. Finnish director Kari Juusonen, who was in charge of both previous movies, is accompanied by well known director Jörgen Lerdam from Denmark, who co-directed Niko 2 with Kari.

The sheer beauty of the Niko films, from the landscapes to character design to animation quality, is incredibly ambitious, especially when making films on a budget. Although the €7+M cost per film is well above average for Nordic animation, the team still had to prioritize. According to Tuomainen:


Our initial goal was to make an animated feature that we wanted to see, and that could stand up on the international market. Even though we got as high as a 7M budget, it still gave some strict limitations. It became a good challenge: how to maximize the visuals within the reality of limited resources. Huge thanks goes to studio Anima Vitae, they are really technically advanced with an eye for the visual, and know how to make animation that looks more expensive than it really is.

Next Steps for Niko

NIKO – Beyond the Northern Lights has been in development for two years, and secured about 80% of its €7.2M budget. The film is in pre-production and pre-visualization, with production scheduled to begin in the spring of 2022. The goal is to complete the film for Cannes 2024, with a theatrical release in Finland in October 2024.


The Nordic distributor of NIKO – Beyond the Northern Lights is again Nordisk Film, while German distribution will be handled again by Telepool. Distribution in France is managed by BAC Films, who have helped contribute to the incredible success of previous Niko films in France, with 700.000 box office admissions for the first film, and 800.000 for the second. The sales agent is again Global Screen from Germany. Tuomainen says:


It is really wonderful to team up again with the same sales and distribution companies and people who have made Niko work so well in the past. This third movie completes Niko´s personal arc of getting over his family issues, and is kind of the third installment of a trilogy. We didn’t set out to make a franchise. But the universe we have created is very charming and lovable to all of us in production, and we are really happy to work with the characters we know so well. So never say never...

See Niko – Beyond the Northern Lights at Cartoon Movie, and in cinemas near you for Christmas 2024.


Text: Rebekah Villon
Pictures: Courtesy of Animaker


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