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Merlin’s magic may animate DBE

John Boorman’s Merlin Films is joining Hong Kong-based Media Assets in its $ 14 million bid to buy what remains of bankrupt Dublin animation studio Don Bluth Entertainment, it was revealed in the Irish High Court yesterday.

But Justice Frank Murphy again postponed his decision on whether to accept the Merlin/Media Assets offer, after the possibility emerged of a rival bid from the U.S. company First National Film Corp, a distributor based in Austin, Texas.

Said Rick Maestre, a Film National exec VP: “We have no comment at this time.” Founded in 1989, the company boasts about $ 4 million in assets, including rights to the unreleased animated movie “Happily Ever After,” billed by the company as “a sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Another hearing has been scheduled for today, with FNFC promising it will come up with a higher bid for Bluth’s feature film assets, comprising three uncompleted pix.

The official liquidator, John McStay, has recommended that the court accept the Merlin/Media Assets offer.

Merlin and Media Assetshave offered to pay $ 14 million for the three films–“A Troll in Central Park,””Thumbelina” and “The Pebble and the Penguin”–plus another $ 5 million if the movies are successful.

They will spend $ 6 million immediately to complete the first two films. Although “A Troll in Central Park” is already almost finished, the partners want to release “Thumbelina” first, it’s hoped some time next spring.

Sources close to the bid say that they hope also to finish “The Pebble and the Penguin,” on which about $ 11 million has so far been spent, and which may need another $ 15 million to complete.

In addition, Merlin and Media Assets plan to invest an unspecified sum to reconstitute the animation studio as a going concern, with the cooperation and involvement of Don Bluth and his partner Garry Goldman.

Meanwhile, it is understood that a month ago, MGM canceled its deal to distribute the three pix in the United States, apparently believing that the films stood little chance of being completed. However, that agreement could be reactivated if the Merlin/Media Assets bid is accepted by the court. Merlin Films was set up in 1990 by director John Boorman as a film and TV financing vehicle, benefiting from Irish tax breaks. Its directors include ICM’s Jeff Berg , who is Boorman’s agent.

Media Assets is the software acquisition arm of Hutchvision, a joint venture between Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and the family companies of its chairman, Li Ka Shing. The Hutchison empire also includes the satellite TV venture Star TV.

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