Disney to produce Paterson's 'Terabithia'

Walt Disney Pictures has pacted with Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media to produce “Bridge to Terabithia,” based on Katherine Paterson’s Newberry Medal-winning children’s novel.

Disney comes aboard as co-financier and U.S. distributor. Walden keeps international rights.

Walden acquired rights to the 1977 book more than three years ago and brought the project to Fox when it signed a slate deal in summer 2004. Walden approached Disney after reaching a mutual agreement with Fox that the project should not go forward there.

Disney and Walden are moving quickly on the pic, with production skedded for February in New Zealand. They are aiming for a spring 2007 release.

Gabor Csupo, co-founder of toon shop Klasky/Csupo and director of “Rugrats Go Wild!,” will make his live-action helming debut on the pic. Jeff Stockwell is penning the screenplay.

Walden CEO Cary Granat told Daily Variety that the Mouse was a natural fit for “Terabithia” because of links between “Bridge” and Mouse House holiday tentpole “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” also the result of a Walden-Disney partnership. The “Bridge” story is in part an homage to C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books, Granat said. “Bridge” tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who befriends the class outsider, a tomboy. They find a sanctuary and create the imaginary world of Terabithia, a land with giants, trolls and other magical beings.

Lauren Levine (“I Am David”) is producing along with the author’s son, David Paterson, who was the inspiration for the book’s protag.

Walden exec VP of production Alex Schwartz and creative exec David Kaufmann are overseeing for the company. Brigham Taylor oversees for Disney.

Disney and Walden also collaborated on “Holes” and James Cameron docu “Ghosts of the Abyss.”

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