Duo to groom Heathcliff for screen

Magic Lantern, FitzRoy team on toon

Irascible orange housecat Heathcliff will be getting a second life on the screen courtesy of a joint venture between family toon studio Magic Lantern Entertainment and rights holder FitzRoy Media.

The two companies have pacted to develop a range of properties, from direct-to-DVD toons to a potential live-action theatrical feature, around the flabby tabby, updating the popular comicstrip character for the 21st century.

Created by George Gately in 1973, Heathcliff remains in print today, written and drawn by Gately’s nephew, Peter Gallagher.

The sarcastic cat previously starred in two, early-’80s animated skeins; FitzRoy and Magic Lantern are re-evaluating Heathcliff’s TV potential, though their hope is to create a live-action/CG hybrid similar to “Alvin and the Chipmunks” or “Garfield: The Movie.”

“He’s not your typical cuddly kitty cat. He’s a really cynical, wisecracking character who has a contemporary perspective we could do a lot with,” said Magic Lantern prexy Jeff Segal.

Late last year, Magic Lantern launched subsidiary Innovation Entertainment, signing a five-year output deal with Universal to deliver 20 family-oriented direct-to-DVD features.

The first Heathcliff project is being developed as an animated DVD special for potential U release in 2011, though Magic Lantern’s arrangement with the studio allows the company to expand it into a theatrical feature if the material warrants.

Magic Lantern is also working on stereoscopic 3-D toons “Noah’s Ark” for Promenade Entertainment and “Ollie the Otter” in partnership with Critterpix, with both intended for theatrical release.

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