Co. hopes project will become franchise series

Continuing to expand its slate of franchiseable animated DVD movie characters and properties, Lions Gate has picked up homevid distrib rights from longtime production partner Mainframe Entertainment and rights holder DIC Entertainment for a new “Inspector Gadget” movie.

The CGI “Inspector Gadget Saves the Day … Maybe,” now in pre-production, is scheduled for release as a TV special and a 65-minute DVD movie in the second half of 2005, said Glenn Ross, president of Lions Gate’s home entertainment division.

Lions Gate, which incorporates the former Artisan Entertainment, has released three CGI movies from Mainframe based on Mattel’s Barbie dolls. It will distribute Mainframe’s CGI “Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy” program scheduled for TV this fall and on DVD Nov. 9.

Lions Gate is hoping the “Popeye” and “Inspector Gadget” programs will lead to a franchise series for each, similar to the Barbie movies, which have sold about 10 million copies.

DIC produced the original “Inspector Gadget” cartoon series in the mid-1980s about the misadventures of a bumbling police inspector with mechanical body parts voiced by Don Adams.

Disney’s 1999 live-action theatrical film version starring Matthew Broderick grossed nearly $100 million in the U.S. and the studio’s live-action DVD-premiere movie sequel last year, “Inspector Gadget 2,” starring French Stewart and Elaine Hendrix, has generated nearly $45 million, according to Daily Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.

“Inspector Gadget is one of a limited number of properties out there that have immediate brand recognition with both parents and children,” Ross said. “We’re working hard on the script and the concept to make sure this movie has all the integrity of story and plot that the original live-action films had. This is an extension of that brand, and we hope this will be the first of other Gadget movies to come.”

Ross said the new movie’s CGI f/x will widen the “Inspector Gadget” demographic and attract a wider audience than previous releases.

DIC signed a one-year video distribution deal with Lions Gate in 2001 after acquiring Golden Books, original owner of the Gadget rights, but did not renew the deal when it expired. In May, MGM put out “Inspector Gadget’s Last Case,” a program originally shown on Nickelodeon’s Sunday Noon Movie Toons block.

(Simone Kaplan is a reporter for Daily Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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