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D’Works’ feat of clay

After two years of courtship, DreamWorks has secured the first full-length animated feature from Oscar-winning Aardman Animations with the claymation project “Chicken Run.”

The deal is another animation-related victory for DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg in the studio’s bid to battle Disney’s domination of the animation market. Disney was one of several other studios — including 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. — eager to corral “Chicken Run.”

Pic will be co-financed and distributed with the Paris-based Pathe. DreamWorks will carry domestic and all international rights except Europe, which Pathe will handle. DreamWorks also retains rights to domestic and international merchandising. Budget figures were not released.

The project, which has already been shooting preliminary tests, is being helmed by Nick Park and Peter Lord, who also produce along with David Sproxton. The trio forms Aardman Animations, which won Oscars for such shorts as “Creature Comforts,” “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave.”

Karey Kirkpatrick and Jack Rosenthal scripted “Chicken Run.”

Jake Eberts, president and founder of Pathe’s affiliate Allied Films and the film’s exec producer, said Pathe and Aardman have been developing the project for more than two years. “We’ve spent millions of dollars in development,” Eberts said.

Eberts added that they went with DreamWorks largely due to the persistence of DreamWorks co-chairman Katzenberg.

“I guess DreamWorks won out just because Jeffrey Katzenberg is an obsessive, persevering guy,” Eberts said. “He was deeply involved in the process.”

Katzenberg admitted that he worked hard to secure the film. “I have been accused of that from time to time. I don’t want to claim innocent,” he said. “I’ve been chasing these guys for five or six years, ever since I first saw ‘Creature Comforts.’ ”

Story is about a group of chickens who make a desperate bid for freedom before they can be fried, filleted or fricasseed. Leading the flock is a British chicken named Ginger and an American rooster named Rocky.

DreamWorks has slated the project to come out in the spring or summer of the year 2000.

Room for competition

Eberts said he was pleased to see the performance of Fox’s “Anastasia” in recent weeks. “I am thrilled beyond belief that there is a place in the animation market for another studio,” he said.

Aardman Animations was founded in 1976 by Lord and Sproxton. Park joined as a co-director in 1985.

Allied Films has arranged or provided financing for such pics as “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dances With Wolves,” “The Name of the Rose,” “Hope and Glory,” “A River Runs Through It” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

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