Companies eye franchise with CGI-enhanced canines

Hollywood is going to the dogs, again.

Following the B.O. success of the Warner Bros. pic “Scooby-Doo” and Spyglass Entertainment’s recent pickup of the “Underdog” film rights, MGM has greenlit “Good Boy!,” a co-production with Jim Henson Pictures that will be helmed by its scripter, John Hoffman.

The family comedy is a hybrid of live-action performers and CGI-enhanced canines, similar to the manner in which “Babe” anthropomorphized animals. It follows the adventures of an alien dog coming to Earth from Sirius, the Dog Star, to investigate interstellar reports that his fellow canines have abandoned their original plan to take over the planet. While investigating, he becomes the pet and friend of a human boy.

“I’m endlessly curious about why dogs, among all animals, have formed such a unique bond with people,” said Hoffman, who wrote the script based on original material by Zeke Richardson, then recently did a rewrite of it recently that led to the greenlight. His acting-out of the dog characters while explaining the script led the producers to name him as helmer, his first directing post.

Franchise plans

MGM and Henson officials are hoping the $20 million pic can become a franchise.

“We really have a lot of ambitions for this film,” said Lisa Henson, who will produce with Kristine Belson. In researching previous pics with dog stars, Henson said, she was struck by the number of titles that had bred subsequent successful direct-to-video sequels, including “Air Bud,” “Balto” and “Beethoven.”

Casting for the young boy who will be the lead actor has begun, and prominent stars will be sought to voice the pic’s seven dog roles. Shooting is scheduled to begin in Vancouver in late August, with Stephanie Allain to exec produce.

Hoffman’s writing credits include TV drama “Northern Lights,” “Queen Bess,” “Indianapolis,” “In Harm’s Way” and “Queen of the Jews.” He is repped by the William Morris Agency and Industry Entertainment.

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