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Mikey Mouse set to make comeback

GOOD MORNING: What, no Mickey Mouse? No longer will that cry be heard. For the first time since the 1950s, the Walt Disney Co. has set up a toon team to create animated works featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and Daisy. “MouseWorks” is in the works at the Toronto Disney animation studios, readying a weekly, 22-minute cartoon series to debut in January 1999. It may air on the Disney Channel or ABC — or both, Roy Disney told me. So far, there are no plans for theatrical viewing, he said. “But I’d love it to happen. And the characters will revert to the look they had in the ’30s-’40s-’50s,” said Roy. “We will go back to the old way of animating. They will be all hand-drawn and hand-painted, with the backgrounds as well. But we want them to have real character as well. Today, Mickey Mouse has become more of a ‘corporate figure’ rather than his cartoon figure.” Walt Disney TV Animation senior VP Barry Blumberg is working with exec producers Roberts Gannaway and Tony Craig, who produced two Emmy-winning seasons of “The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa” and exec produce the current “101 Dalmatians: The Series.” Music will also be an important part of the contemporary “MouseWorks.” When I told Disney the return of Mickey Mouse will no doubt have fat advertising cats ready to leap into sponsorship, he modestly said, “I try to avoid that part of the business.” But he noted, “The time is right to bring back Mickey and the other characters to the public on a regular basis and there’s no more appropriate time to make this announcement than on the anniversary (69th) of Mickey’s creation.” As for increased competition from majors, minors and indies in the animation field, Disney smiled, “When you know someone else is trying to steal your business, it makes you even better.” He noted that the l998 feature “Mulan” has a different concept, but “I ran it and it got the best reaction of anything we’ve seen in quite a while. Although it is not a well-known subject — it’s a Chinese folk tale — it is absolutely charming.” It’s “Tarzan” for 1999 and Disney says, “Everyone knows who he is!” Then, to start the millennium: 2,000 theaters worldwide on Dec. 31, 1999 will debut “Fantasia,” with six new segs (65% of the movie is new) plus, of course, the three original masterpiece numbers: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” “The Nutcracker” and “Dance of the Hours.”

“I’VE SPENT MY LAST THREE birthdays in a wheelchair,” said Christopher Reeve, “but I know I’m not going to spend the rest of life in one.” Reeve’s positive outlook is echoed by his “Circle of Friends,” who have joined him in a paid, half-hour infomercial and who will join him in a two-hour ABC special. The spec will tape Feb. 1 at the Wiltern; funds raised by ticket sales, the TV program and contributions derived on-the-air will go to the Christopher Reeve Foundation. The special will be produced by the same team that brought us the Emmys: Don Mischer, Louis J. Horvitz, Michael Seligman and Danette Herman (who are also now readying The Kennedy Center Honors). The infomercial boasts appearances by Susan Sarandon, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Meryl Streep, Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Judith Light, Dana & Christopher Reeve and Chaka Khan singing “The Shining Star.” The ABC special, unlike the strictly informative infomercial, will be entertainment-themed: a variety show with music and dancing, “but not a glitzy, Hollywood thing,” added Mischer. Of course, it will also contain the message of “A Circle of Friends” but will feature participants other than those just in showbiz. The infomercial, designed to raise funds for the American Paralysis Assn., will probably be seen on cable outlets and even public access. Nabisco and its Snackwell brand underwrote $125,000 of the initial purchase of $150,000 airtime. Global Vision Net prexy Frank Brady made the production a reality. I have seen it and it is powerful, not only as a heartbreaker, but in heartening the hope for a cure, as played out positively by convincing medics. But the problem is clear: a cure could be near with money for continuing research in regeneration of spinal cord nerves. Reeve sounded his incredibly strong self Tuesday at home as he readied for the evening’s Waldof-Astoria fund-raiser honoring Gerald Levin. Alec Baldwin emceed the evening including Ted Turner, Jane Fonda and Glenn Close, with Dana Reeve singing. Christopher continues his go-round with government agencies trying to get more funding for research in the related diseases, Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. And he continues to pursue his career, including the updated “Rear Window” for ABC, in which he will star and exec produce with Steven Haft. Ron Bass is working on the story, he says, and Larry Gross will script for a hopeful May start. He is completing his autobio for Random House and looking for a script to direct in the fall ’98. “In the Gloaming,” which Reeve directed for HBO, won multiple Emmy and CableAce nominations and won the CableAce for dramatic/theatrical special. Reeve did not win as director, but he told me philosophically, “That’s just one of those things; it happens sometimes, like to Steven Spielberg and so many other” directors of award-winning works.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AND MARIA SHRIVER did not know it (nor did anyone else on hand) during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A.: Rabbi Marvin Hier was interrupted by a phone call from Jordan’s King Hussein, who had earlier asked Hier to talk to Netanyahu to arrange the historic London meeting for today! The secret arrangements between Hussein, first via his assistant Ali Shukri and Hier, were started last Thursday and were sealed Monday in L.A. for the London meet. After all this happened here at the Wiesenthal Center, Netanyahu invited Arnold and Maria to be on hand next April for Israel’s 50th anni — they accepted on the spot … On tonight’s “Jeopardy,” Oliver Stone beats out Arianna Huffington and Wolf Blitzer. Stone contributed his $15,000 winnings to Rock the Vote, which also had been the recipient of Stone’s “JFK” preem here … The Vanity Fair Nov. issue with President Clinton and VP Al Gore on the cover outsold those issues covered by movie stars George Clooney, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Hopkins, Nicolas Cage and Matthew McConaughey … Barbra Streisand and Jim Brolin today pre-tape their Friday show with Rosie O’Donnell, on the newly arranged O’Donnell stage on which guests’ left profiles are now seen on camera.

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