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Court puts stamp on Bluth sale

Don Bluth’s Dublin-based animation studio is finally poised to rise from the ashes of bankruptcy, with new owners and filmmaker John Boorman as its chairman.

The Irish High Court yesterday gave the green light to the sale of Bluth’s three incompleted feature films to a joint venture backed by John Boorman’s Merlin Films and Hong Kong-based Media Assets (Daily Variety, Nov. 12).

Justice Frank Murphy refused a request by First National Film Corp. for another postponement, to give the U.S. company time to put together a rival bid.

Merlin/Media Assets will pay $ 14 million upfront, plus another $ 5 million if the films are successful. They will also invest $ 6 million immediately to complete the first two movies, “A Troll In Central Park” and “Thumbelina.”

The partners plan to use these two films as the foundation on which to rebuild Bluth’s studio. Their first priority is to rehire many of the staff who lost their jobs when Don Bluth Entertainment went into liquidation, and to put a financial plan in place for the reconstituted company.

The partners hope eventually they will be able to complete the third movie, “The Pebble and the Penguin,” which is still at a very early stage, requiring perhaps another $ 15 million investment.

The exact structure of the Merlin/Media Assets joint venture has yet to be revealed, although it is clear that the latter is providing the bulk of the cash , funnelled through Merlin’s Dublin tax shelter.

Merlin will contribute considerable film industry expertise– aside from Boorman himself, the company’s board includes Boorman’s longtime financial adviser Kieran Corrigan, and ICM’s Jeff Berg.

Merlin and Media Assets plan “a close involvement” in the management of the animation studio, which has attracted criticism in the past for inadequate financial controls. Sources close to the new owners say that the $ 60 million already spent by DBE on the three incompleted movies should have been enough to finish all three — but that they still require a further investment of about $ 20 million.

“A Troll In Central Park” is nearly finished, but will be released after “Thumbelina,” which the new owners plan to complete by the end of January for release in March. As a well-known fairy tale, “Thumbelina” is felt to be the safer commercial bet.

No name has yet been announced for the new company, but Merlin sources indicated they are hoping for permission to retain the name of the old bankrupt studio, Don Bluth Entertainment.

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