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Elton draws on Kipling

Pop star to write songs for big-budget feature

Walt Disney Feature Animation has struck a deal with Elton John’s London-based Rocket Pictures to develop a big-budget feature based on Rudyard Kipling’s “Just-So Stories,” for which the pop star will write the songs.

The deal builds upon the relationship between Disney and John that started when he composed the score of the animated pic “The Lion King.” Rocket Pictures, which launched 18 months ago, has a five-year first-look pact with Disney. “Just-So Stories” is their first joint project.

The pic will forego the traditional drawn animation route and instead use the latest technological advances in computer animation to create a surreal live-action effect, according to Rocket principals David Furnish and Polly Steele.

Rocket, which is also touting a slate of smaller-scale British projects for financing at Cannes, recently acquired the rights to the book from the Kipling estate through London-based agent Sam North at A.P. Watt.

“Just-So Stories” is a collection of classic tales including “How the Elephant Got Its Trunk,” “How the Camel Got Its Hump” and “How the Leopard Got Its Spots.”

Development exec-turned-writer Allegra Huston, who brought the idea to Rocket, is working alongside Furnish and Steele to meld these strands into a single storyline, with the baby elephant as the main character.

John, who will visit Cannes next week to help Rocket set up its other projects, said in a statement that he is “very excited at the prospect of working alongside Disney on another high-quality project.” Furnish and Steele tell Variety that the treatment and look of the film will be developed over the next year, at which point the pop star will write the songs.

In contrast to this Disney project, the rest of Rocket’s slate comprises edgier and lower-budget fare.

  • The company has just attached Brit director Coky Giedroyc (“Stella Does Tricks”) to “Women Talking Dirty,” which is being lined up to shoot in the fall. Adapted by Isla Dewar from her own novel, it centers on the unlikely friendship between two very different Scottish women, and the revenge they play on the man who has deceived them both. John will supervise the soundtrack as well as taking an exec producer credit, with Furnish and Steele producing.

  • “In God’s Name” is a romantic thriller adapted by novelist Philip Kerr from David Yallop’s best-selling book about corruption within the walls of the Vatican City. It’s a fictionalized account of an investigation by a Boston cop-turned-priest and a beautiful Italian journalist into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I.

  • “A God and His Gifts” is adapted from Ivy Compton Burnett’s novel by Kit Hesketh-Harvey. Set in the ’60s, it’s a family saga about sex and death among English aristos living on a vast estate in Scotland, as the Edwardian values of the older generation comes into conflict with the permissive amorality of the younger breed.

  • Rocket is also touting the previously announced “Desert Flower,” a co-production with actress Lysette Anthony’s Barnaby Films. The film is based on the true story of African model and human rights activist Waris Dirie, who fled an arranged marriage in Somalia to scrape a living in London, where she was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan. She eventually returned to Africa to become a campaigner against female circumcision, which she was forced to endure as a child.

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