U sings ‘Wild Things’

Hires two Disney animators for Sendak pic

Universal has fast-tracked a CGI adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” hiring two Disney animation fixtures to spearhead the project.

Eric Goldberg, a 10-year Mouse vet who co-directed “Pocahontas” and was a key animator on such films as “Aladdin,” “Hercules” and “Fantasia 2000,” will direct the feature. David Reynolds, who has been part of the writing team on numerous Disney animated features over the past four years and got screen credit on “The Emperor’s New Groove,” has been hired to adapt the script. It is the first non-Disney project either has done in years.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is being produced by Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and John Carls, the latter of whom runs Wild Things Prods. with Sendak.

Hanks will likely contribute his voice to the film, marking the second animated venture he’s participated in after voicing the Woody character in “Toy Story” and its sequel for Disney and Pixar. The fast-track term for a CGI feature is relative, given that the process takes around three years. U is eyeing a Thanksgiving 2004 or summer 2005 release date for the film, with production co-prexy Mary Parent shepherding.

Published in 1963, “Where the Wild Things Are” is the Caldecott Medal-winning story of Max, a mischievous child who is punished by his parents when he will not stop wearing a wolf costume to scare the neighbors. The child is sent to bed without supper, and his imagination conjures up a forest where he meets up with the wild things — monsters who embrace him as their king. The illustrated book carried only 300 words, but like the brief illustrated books of Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Allsburg, Sendak’s novel provides an ideal blueprint for a feature film. In fact, Playtone is turning “The Polar Express,” an illustrated book by “Jumanji” author Van Allsburg, into a Castle Rock feature that will star Hanks.

Sendak has been approached for years to turn his book into a movie. One overture came from Disney, where John Lassiter did some computer animation tests on the project, long before he left to form CGI-pioneer Pixar. The technology wasn’t ready back then, but Sendak got serious when he formed Wild Things with Carls in 1992. They set “Wild Things” with Playtone and U several years ago.

They also have three animated series on the air: HBO’s “George and Martha,” TBS’ “Seven Little Monsters” and Nickelodeon’s “Little Bear.”

Playtone, meanwhile, makes its next splash Sept. 9, when HBO premieres its 10-part WWII series “Band of Brothers,” which Playtone and DreamWorks produced, spearheaded by Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

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