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Disney, Zemeckis enter ‘Dark Life’

Studio and ImageMovers to adapt young adult novel

Disney and Robert Zemeckis are eyeing the ocean floor as the setting for a new family franchise.

The Mouse House and ImageMovers have wrapped a deal to partner with the Gotham Group to adapt Kat Falls’ upcoming young adult novel “Dark Life,” with Zemeckis attached to direct.

Book is set in a near-future world in which rising ocean levels and natural catastrophes have led some people to homestead on the ocean floor, and kids to develop supernatural powers. Story centers on an underwater teenage boy and a surface girl who join forces to uncover a government conspiracy.

Project fits in well with Disney’s new mandate to create family friendly fare that can be exploited across the company’s various platforms and spawn sequels.

The Gotham Group won the rights to “Dark Life” after making a preemptive bid to buy the manuscript earlier this year (Daily Variety, Jan. 25). Book will be published by Scholastic in May, backed by a major marketing push. Two books had initially been planned, but could now expand to more installments.

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Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey will produce through ImageMovers with Jackie Levine shepherding the project for the shingle. Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Lee Stollman will produce through Gotham.

Whether the film will be produced using Zemeckis’ favored performance-capture process has yet to be determined. In a cost-cutting move, Disney last month said it will pull the plug on ImageMovers Digital, based in Marin County, Calif., by the end of the year once “Mars Needs Moms” wraps. The facility produced the performance-capture work on “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol.”

ImageMovers is still developing Disney’s remake of “The Yellow Submarine” and is behind an adaptation of “Airman,” based on Eoin Colfer’s kids’ book, and “The Stoneheart Trilogy,” a young-adult fantasy book series by Charlie Fletcher, also at the Mouse House.

Gotham’s recent credits include “The Spiderwick Chronicles” for Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies. The company’s upcoming slate includes “Quantum Quest,” a large-format 3D CGI film based on NASA’s Cassini Mission; “Saving Juliet” at Disney; “The Maze Runner” and “The Devil You Know” at 20th Century Fox; and “Wicked” and “Stargirl” at DreamWorks.

Falls is a graduate screenwriting program professor at Northwestern U.

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