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Fox’s ‘Ice’ taps hot stars

With “Anastasia” successfully launched, Fox Family Films has lined up a star cast for its next animated feature, “Planet Ice.”

The studio has signed “The Rainmaker” star Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Lena Olin and Jim Breuer to provide the voices for the sci-fi film.

Fox Family Films, which oversees all animation for the studio, broke the ice last weekend with the launch of “Anastasia.” Despite direct competition from Disney’s rerelease of “The Little Mermaid,” the film opened with a strong $14.1 million. Just as the story of the surviving kin of the Russian czar seemed unusually sophisticated fare for animation, “Planet Ice” will chase the sci-fi audience.

It’s set in the future, with the Earth destroyed by a vicious alien race. Cale, a 19-year-old boy (Damon) who has grown up among aliens, finds a map left by his father that reveals a treasure that can save mankind. He teams with Joe Korso (Pullman) and his crew of renegade aliens and a beautiful pilot (Barrymore). Their mission: to find Planet Ice. Lane, who voiced Timon in “The Lion King,” will provide the voice for Korso’s first mate; Azaria, who had a vocal role in “Anastasia,” voices the ship’s navigator; and Breuer plays Cale’s overbearing alien boss.

“It’s a daring storyline, but fitting that you’d use animation to tell this story,” said Fox Family prexy Chris Meledandri. “The imagery would be too costly to realize in live action. It will distinguish this film, which has a cast not only of humans but also aliens. And the group of actors we’ve put together is about the finest assembled for an animated film.”

The film’s being scripted by Ben Edlund, who created the Fox animated series “The Tick.” It’s being directed by Art Vitello, who has worked with Edlund on that show and animated both features and “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Spider-Man.”

STEPPING UP: Aside from a ratings-grabber, ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney” has already proven a testing ground for feature directors. Rob Iscove, who directed the highly rated musical “Cinderella,” is near a deal with Disney-owned Miramax to helm “Chicago,” the screen version of the smash-hit musical. Names ranging from Madonna to Goldie Hawn and Rosie O’Donnell have been talked up to star.

And Gary Nadeau, who just directed “Angels in the End Zone,” has made a deal with Disney’s Charles Hirschhorn to make his feature directing debut on his pitch “Miles From Home.” The deal, brokered by William Morris and attorney Michael Luisi, was in the mid-six figures. Nadeau won the student Academy Award at NYU for “Red,” and co-wrote “Jack” with James DeMonaco. “Miles” is about a guy who claims to be an angel and is institutionalized in New York. His impact on other patients gets the attention of a psychiatrist, who has lost his faith but soon believes Miles’ claim that he was guardian angel of a man who has disappeared.At the same time, Tim Kelleher, who wrote and directed “The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon” for ABC, has been hired to rewrite and direct the Touchstone pic “Supermodels” in a deal made by William Morris and attorney Steve Warren of Hansen Jacobson Teller & Hoberman.

MONKEY’ BACK IN GERE: Mandalay has hired Deepa Mehta to rewrite and direct “Beyond the Sea,” the film formerly known as “The Hundredth Monkey,” an unusual love story in which Richard Gere has long wanted to star. Mehta is rapidly making a name for herself directing controversial films that explore politics and social standing in India.

Aside from “Camilla,” the film that starred Jessica Tandy and Bridget Fonda, she directed “Fire,” a pic about two Indian women who fall in love and incur the wrath of domineering husbands. She’s next set to direct “Earth,” the second in a trilogy she plans to write and direct. It’s set in 1947 when the subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan.

“Beyond the Sea,” which is being eyed for a summer shoot, would star Gere as a navy lieutenant who falls in love with an oceanographer studying whales. Kate Lanier wrote the script, and Gere’s partner Maggie Wilde is producing with Mandalay exec Karen Teicher. Mehta’s deal was sealed by her managers at the Rigbert-Roberts Co. and attorney Ira Schrek.

BETTE-ING ON 3RD ROCKERS?: Dish’s disclosure that Bette Midler is being tempted to star in her first sitcom is beginning to crystallize. Carsey-Werner has been the producer with the inside track so far — and with good reason. Sources said that Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner have put their star show creators, “3rd Rock From the Sun” exec producers Bonnie and Terry Turner, on the case.

Should Midler formalize a deal, they’d custom create a vehicle that they’ll set up at a network. The money will be big, and word is they might have license to request two years.

BIRD RESEARCH: The Bubble Factory’s prepping a comedy called “Tom,” about a White House aide charged with finding a giant turkey to be pardoned by the president pre-Thanksgiving Day. Bubble Factory senior veep Gerard Bocaccio and scribe Peter Lenkov will go to the White House on the eve of Turkey Day to watch the actual ceremony, and then lunch with White House aides in the name of research.

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