Bionicle toy to come alive through CGI pic pact

As part of its ongoing push into kids entertainment, Miramax Films has unveiled its first CGI animated feature for children.

Pic, based on the Lego Co.’s Bionicle line of action figures, will be produced jointly by Miramax and Lego Media, the Danish toy company’s film and TV arm. Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein, who plans to fast-track the project, is eyeing a 2004 theatrical release.

Deal for the Bionicle theatrical feature is part of a broader partnership between Miramax and Lego that also grants the mini-major worldwide distrib rights to a CGI-animated, direct-to-video Bionicle movie slated for a September 2003 release. That pic is called “Bionicle: Mask of Light”; it’s being produced at L.A.-based toon company Creative Capers Entertainment.

As Miramax’s frosh animation project, the Bionicle theatrical pic will serve as a critical test of the company’s agility with a medium that, at times, has proved immensely profitable for other studios but has also often proved slow, costly and cumbersome.

But production of the pic will benefit from Lego’s previous spade work on the Bionicle brand. The product began as a story concept and appeared on the Web and as a comicbook before coming to life as a toy.

“We have been developing the property with a motion picture adaptation in mind from day one,” Lego Media global veep of TV and film Conny Kalcher told Daily Variety. “We’ve done a lot of groundwork already. All the characters are established. We’ve tied down the look.”

Senior production exec Rick Schwartz and veep of acquisitions Jeff Tahler, who brought the project to Miramax, will oversee production, working with outside animators and with Lego Media.

Miramax beat out offers from other studios to develop a Bionicle movie, Kalcher said.

Aimed at boys 8-12, Bionicle toys are rooted in a single, multicultural storyline created by Lego, involving six heroes, known as the Toa, who join forces to collect legendary artifacts the Masks of Power and defeat Makuta, an evil ruler who has taken over the island of Mata Nui.

Multimedia brand

Like most kids’ franchises, Bionicle is now a multimedia brand, widely merchandised and licensed by Lego. “One of the keys to its popularity has been the creation of multidimensional media platforms — including a Web site, comicbooks, trading cards, software and a toy line,” said Stig Blicher, global veep for Bionicle.

Created two years ago, Bionicle was recognized with boy toy of the year kudos from the American Toy Industry Assn.

“Bionicle is a rich story with complex characters – exactly the type of project we always appreciate at Miramax,” Weinstein said. “This is a great project with which to begin our relationship with Lego Media – a company that shares our passion for pushing creative boundaries in all areas.”

‘Summerland’ tooning up

Miramax has one other animated feature in development – “Summerland,” based on the Michael Chabon book published by Talk Miramax. “Summerland” is expected to follow the Bionicle pic into production.

Miramax exec veep, office of the co-chairman, Charles Layton and co-prexy of production Bob Osher negotiated the deal on behalf of the company. Lego was repped by Kalcher and Blicher.

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