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U, Imagine in new bid to skin ‘Cat’

Pic deal could be worth seven figures

Convinced that Dr. Seuss’ Grinch will steal holiday box office receipts, the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” team of Universal and Imagine are now in advanced negotiations to turn another Seuss classic, “The Cat in the Hat,” into a live-action vehicle for Tim Allen.

Books were written by the late Theodor Geisel, who died in 1991 at the age of 87 and wrote under the Seuss pseudonym.

Imagine, led by chairman Brian Grazer, and Universal, led by chairman Stacey Snider, prexy Kevin Misher and exec veep Mary Parent, should close the deal shortly with Seuss’ widow, Audrey Geisel, and the ICM agents who rep the estate. Deal is thought to be of the seven-figure variety. “Grinch” was won in a heated bidding battle for $5 million, plus 4% of gross and a merchandising take approaching 50%.

“The Cat in the Hat” had once been developed by DreamWorks with Allen in mind, but the project never jelled. It’s unclear what Imagine and U execs are planning, but they may be truer to the book than the DreamWorks project was said to be. In the Ron Howard-directed “Grinch,” Jim Carrey plays the creature with a heart two sizes too small in a fuzzy green suit and looks much the way Seuss drew him.

Studio plans to start from scratch and won’t use any of the scripts DreamWorks developed before the rights lapsed and went back to the Seuss estate. So Allen could well become the red bow-tied cat with the red and white-striped stovetop hat who destroys the home of the two children with the help of his mischievous pals, Thing One and Thing Two.

Aside from continuing the Imagine/U association with Seuss properties, the “Cat” adoption seems a logical move for Universal in that it already has a “Cat in the Hat” ride at its Islands of Adventure Theme Parks. For Allen, currently starring for Barry Sonnenfeld in “Big Trouble,” the film plugs him back into the kiddie audience he has connected with in films like “The Santa Clause,” “Jungle 2 Jungle,” “Galaxy Quest” and the “Toy Story” films.

A deal is expected to close shortly, though because it isn’t closed, none of the principals would comment.

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