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Mouse re-tooning animation strategy

3-D computer-generated pic up next for Disney

HOLLYWOOD — Just over a year after being elevated to prexy of Walt Disney Animation, David Stainton is putting his stamp on the Mouse House’s toon platoon.

Stainton has greenlit his first feature: a 3-D computer-animated pic based on William Joyce’s bestselling children’s book “A Day With Wilbur Robinson.” “Lilo & Stitch” producer Clark Spencer will exec produce.

Toon is skedded to start production in June and is slated for a summer 2006 release.

Separately, Stainton is expected to announce today the closing of Disney’s Orlando, Fla.-based animation unit. It’s not known how many of the unit’s 258 employees will be laid off as a result, but some will be transferred to Burbank over a period of time.

The shuttering the Florida facility has been expected ever since the studio decided in November not to go ahead with its traditionally animated “A Few Good Ghosts.” The Orlando unit produced “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and the studio’s most recent toon release, “Brother Bear.”

The decisions to move ahead with the 3-D “Wilbur,” and to drop “A Few Good Ghosts” and close the Orlando unit all suggest the Mouse House is moving away from the 2-D animation style that built its reputation. The studios recent 2-D releases, including “Brother Bear,” “Treasure Planet” and “Atlantis,” have ranged from modest successes to outright failures at the box office.

‘Bear’ helmer

“A Day With Wilbur Robinson” will be produced by Disney animation veteran Dorothy McKim and will be directed by Steve Anderson, head of story on “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Brother Bear.”

It will be Disney’s next inhouse production after the currently lensing “Chicken Little,” skedded for a summer 2005 release.

“Wilbur” is a comedy-adventure that follows one day in the life of a boy genius who creates a machine to recover the lost memory of the past. He unlocks a visit with a future, a family and a world whose survival depends upon him.

“William Joyce’s charming and funny book has everything you could possibly want in an animated film and offers our animation team a rich world of possibilities,” Stainton said. “Our goal at Disney is to tell great stories and to take full advantage of the medium, and ‘A Day With Wilbur Robinson’ gives us a chance to do both.”

Stainton told Daily Variety the pic will be budgeted at significantly less than “Lilo & Stitch’s” $80 million pricetag, but would not give a specific number.

“I think one of our goals is that every time we release a movie, it has a potential to become a franchise,” Stainton said. “This movie is particularly suited to TV series, and a lot of it takes place in the future so there are all kinds of great gadgets, which lend themselves to consumer products as well.”

He said Joyce is contemplating a sequel to “Wilbur,” but as yet those rights remain with his publisher.

Pixar in mix?

Disney partner Pixar will release “The Incredibles” this fall and “Cars” in 2005.

Stainton added that if a new deal with Pixar was concluded, the first pic under that deal would be released in 2006. However, he said he is not directly involved with the Pixar negotiations and did not know the current status of the deal.

Illustrator-author Joyce previously teamed with the Mouse House on the Disney Channel series “Rolie Polie Olie” which won an Emmy during its five-year run.

Joyce’s other children’s books include “Dinosaur Bob,” “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs,” “Santa Calls,” “Bentley & Egg” and “Nicholas Cricket.”

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