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‘Polar’ heats up

Castle Rock fast-tracks kidpic with Hanks

NEW YORK — With “The Green Mile” a candidate for best picture Oscar honors, Castle Rock has gotten back into the Tom Hanks business, making a seven-figure commitment to an adaptation of author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book “The Polar Express,” a project to be fast-tracked as a vehicle to star Hanks.

Thesp and his Playtone Co. partner Gary Goetzman will produce with Van Allsburg and his Golden Mean Prods. partner Bill Teitler. Castle Rock president Martin Shafer, who made the deal, sees the project as a holiday movie to hit theaters around Christmas 2001.

Van Allsburg’s children’s tale “Jumanji” (1995) was adapted into the hit Robin Williams film by Interscope and Sony that grossed $270 million worldwide; a sequel is in the works.

Pole position

Winner of the 1985 Caldecott Medal, “The Polar Express” concerns a boy who continues to believe in Santa Claus despite the skepticism of his friends. His faith is rewarded one Christmas Eve when he’s awakened by a steam train that pulls up in front of his house and takes him and other children to the North Pole to meet Santa.

Published by Houghton-Mifflin, the short story is only 29 pages with illustrations. Hanks will play the conductor of the Polar Express who takes the boy on the journey.

“This is a great property, and we are excited about being back in business with Tom … and Playtone,” said Castle Rock prexy Shafer. “We will be meeting writers soon and intend to put this on a fast track. … . It’s a great book, one that Tom has always loved.”

‘In good hands’

Van Allsburg said he has resisted past overtures to turn the story into a film: “Over the years, many people have approached me about buying the film rights to the book. True, none of them had the stature Mr. Hanks enjoys, but more significantly, none of them showed the genuine appreciation for the book that he expressed,” Van Allsburg said. “His sensitivity to the material makes me feel that the train is in good hands.”

Teitler, who produced “Jumanji” with Scott Kroopf, added, “It’s a dream project. It’s a wonderful partnership.”

With “Jumanji” producer Interscope, Van Allsburg and Teitler are also developing an adaptation of Van Allsburg’s “The Widow’s Broom,” the tale of a lonely widow who discovers a broom discarded by a witch that still has a bit of magic left in it. That project has taken root at Paramount and Nickelodeon Pictures, with Van Allsburg having adapted the script himself.

Hanks and Playtone are repped by CAA, and attorneys Alan Hergott and Eric Brooks. ICM’s Paul Hook and attorney Tom Hunter repped Van Allsburg and Teitler; attorney Lois Scali repped Houghton-Mifflin.

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