Universal, Illumination Entertainment nab rights

Several studios were in on the search, but Universal and Illumination Entertainment were the ones who found “Where’s Waldo?”

U and Chris Meledandri’s family film unit have acquired screen rights to turn the “Where’s Waldo?” book series into a live-action family pic. Deal was worth high-six against seven figures. Meledandri will produce.

Among other bidders, Warner Bros. chased the property for Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne’s Unique Features banner. The rights were brokered by Classic Media’s Eric Ellenbogen, who’ll be executive producer.

Written and illustrated by Martin Handford, the “Waldo” books have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. The books contain complex, full-page illustrations of large crowd scenes in which the main character is somewhere hidden, dressed in a red-and-white shirt, a hat, glasses and a walking stick.

U and Illumination will seek to create a movie with strong global appeal.

Series launched in 1987 in the U.K., spawning a TV skein, comicstrip and videogames.

Handford’s business partner Mike Gornall will also be involved in the film in some capacity.

Deal comes as Illumination readies its first picture, “Despicable Me,” for a July 9, 2010, release via Universal. Voice cast includes Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Danny McBride, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig and Julie Andrews.

Next up for Illumination is “Flanimals,” an animated film based on the children’s book series created by Ricky Gervais, who’ll voice the lead character in the film scripted by Matt Selman (“The Simpsons”).

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