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Storyopolis brings ‘Betsy,’ ‘Tollbooth’ to life

Pacino to star in Napoleon tale

Warner Bros. Pictures-based Storyopolis Prods. is making its mark on the feature world with two high-profile projects: a live-action version of Norton Juster’s classic children’s book “The Phantom Tollbooth,” to which Rob Minkoff (“Stuart Little”) is attached as producer, and the Al Pacino starrer “Betsy and the Emperor,” in which the actor will portray the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte.

“Tollbooth,” first published in 1961, is the tale of a little boy who says “almost everything is a waste of time,” only to be swept into an alternate world where he finds himself on a very odd journey of mythic proportions.

Book was first adapted as an animated feature by MGM in 1971. Minkoff will produce the new title with his partner, Jason Clark, and Storyopolis prexy Fonda Snyder, who is seeking a writer to adapt the Warners project.

On “Betsy,” TF1 Intl. is in advanced negotiations to finance the drama, which will be directed by Patrice Chereau (“Queen Margot”).

“Betsy” is being adapted by Jean-Claude Carriere (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) from an unpublished manuscript by author Staton Rabin. Pic will fictionalize the true story of Bonaparte’s relationship with the young daughter of his jailer on the island of St. Helena.

Producer Howard Rosenman (“Family Man”) brought the “Betsy” property to Snyder. Pacino became involved with the project after actress-producer Colleen Camp received a copy of Carriere’s script from actress Scarlett Johansson and her mother, Melanie. Camp then brought the property to Pacino.

Snyder will produce with Rosenman, Camp and Chereau’s Paris-based producer, Charles Gassot.

CAA will rep “Betsy” for North America. TF1 Intl., headed by Didier Sapaut, would handle the film’s foreign sales. Shooting is slated to begin next spring, with locations in France and the U.K.

Storyopolis, which is developing the animated film “Nicholas Cricket” with Sandra Bullock’s Fortis Films at Warners, recently produced its first computer-animated short, “Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big.” Frances McDormand voices along with John Cleese and Haley Joel Osment. Pic is based on the book of the same title published through the Storyopolis publishing imprint with Little, Brown & Co.

Pic is the directorial debut of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. Nickelodeon Films will oversee the Academy Award-qualifying release of “Edwurd” Nov. 24-26 in Los Angeles.

Camp is currently producing “Creature Features” for HBO, a slate of five new films inspired by the classic ’50s monster movies produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff. Series, which will also be produced by Lou Arkoff and visual effects whiz Stan Winston, is slated to premiere on the cabler in 2001 (Daily Variety, Feb. 23).

CAA reps Minkoff as well as Pacino and the producers of “Betsy.” Rabin was repped by literary agent Lynne Pleshette. Attorney Lawrence Weinberg is handling the deal between the producers and Sapaut as well as TF1 USA’s Jean Charles Levy and Dorian Issock.