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BLUTH’S TOON TOWN TO CLOSE

After nearly a decade of losses under a string of different names and owners, the end has finally arrived for Screen Animation Ireland, formerly known as Don Bluth Entertainment.

The Dublin-based animation studio, which made pics such as “All Dogs Go to Heaven” and “Thumbelina,” will close Oct. 31 after negotiations for a sale collapsed last week.

The news that 174 jobs will be lost with the closure comes as a further blow to the Irish film industry, at a time when the reverberations from the “Divine Rapture” disaster are still being felt. That film, shooting in Ireland, was forced to shut down due to loss of funds.

The current owner of Screen Animation Ireland is Hong Kong-based Media Assets, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. It has been in talks for six months with a management buyout group backed by New York investor Richard McDonald.

But the talks broke off last week when Media Assets lost patience due to the failure of the would-be purchasers to offer a coherent deal.

Media Assets, part of the Star TV group, bought the studio three years ago for $19 million, and paid for the completion of the three animated films in production at that time – “Thumbelina,” “A Troll in Central Park” and “The Pebble and the Penguin.” In total, it sunk around $50 million into the studio, but insiders estimate its total earnings at no more than $20 million.

The studio is completing “All Dogs Go to Heaven II” under contract to MGM, but has no creative input into the project. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, the animators who founded what was then called Sullivan Bluth nine years ago, have long since departed to work with the new animation division of Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox in Phoenix, taking Bluth’s name with them.

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