Creek toons ‘King and I’

“The King and I” not only has found its place again on the New York stage, but also is being made into a full-length animated musical. Morgan Creek Prods. is in pre-production on the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein work, with Nest Entertainment hired to produce. Animation will be a first for the hugely successful musical.

Rick Rich, a former animator at Disney and the creative force behind “The Swan Princess,” will direct the film, which is skedded for a 1998 bow. Rich also was a director on the 1981 “The Fox and the Hound” and is working on the sequel to “Princess.”

The play, which made Yul Brynner a star, first bowed on the New York stage in 1951 with Gertrude Lawrence also starring. Based on the true story “Anna and the King of Siam,” it was adapted into a feature in 1956. It tells the story of a widowed teacher who is hired to teach the King of Siam’s children and finds herself dealing with an arrogant and imperious ruler.

The film is being produced by Morgan Creek chairman and CEO James Robinson, Rankin/Bass Prods. president Arthur Rankin and Peter Bakalian, who adapted the original libretto with Jacqueline Feather and David Selder.

Classic opportunity

“This is a unique opportunity for us,” Morgan Creek vice chairman and chief operating officer Gary Barber said. “It’s a world-renown classic, which is experiencing a revival on Broadway.” Barber will exec produce along with the company’s Bill Todman Jr.

“This is a story that families appreciate,” Robinson said. “I really feel this is a story that will translate well into animation. It’s an evergreen.”

“In our original presentation to the Rodgers and Hammerstein families, we assured them that we would preserve the integrity of the original production,” Rankin said.

Jim Miller, executive VP of business and acquisitions for Warner Bros., was instrumental in putting together the deal, as was WMA’s Len Hirshan, who represented Rankin/Bass.

“This was something that Arthur Rankin had optioned from the Rodgers & Hammerstein estate. He brought it to us and we developed a screenplay with Peter Bakalian.

Staying loyal

“With writers Jackie Feather and David Seidler, we all came up with an animated version of the ‘King and I’ that is very loyal to the original work,” Miller said. “Because we were busy with ‘Space Jam’ and ‘The Quest,’ we suggested it to Morgan Creek, who enthusiastically jumped in.”

The most recent revival opened in April of this year at the Neil Simon Theater with Lou Diamond Phillips, who co-starred in Morgan Creek’s “Young Guns,” “Renegades” and “Young Guns II.”

“(Phillips) is my first choice for the voice of the King, but we have not had any discussions with him,” Robinson said. “He’s a professional and a really decent guy, and I’m glad to have done so many movies with him. I hope we can work together again.”

(Greg Evans contributed to this report.)

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