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Germany’s Maze Pictures and Red Balloon and Italy’s Palomar have teamed up to co-produce promising family pic “Grisella,” based on a German classic about a talking donkey. German-Kurdish helmer Huseyin Tabak is attached to direct.

The project is being developed in English with financing from an Italy-Germany co-development fund. German producer Torsten Poeck is also on board. “Grisella” is being pitched to prospective partners at the Locarno Festival’s Alliance For Development initiative which aims to help develop and co-produce projects from France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.    

Tabak, who studied film with Michael Haneke in Vienna, has made a splash with hit drama “Your Beauty is Worth Nothing,” which provided a 12-year-old Turkish boy’s perspective on how he and his family contended with challenges of immigration in Austria.

Described in promotional materials as family entertainment for a broad audience, “Grisella” is about an eponymous  donkey with the magical gift of human language who bonds with Tino, an orphan boy, on the Italian island of Elba. When they intersect with a rich spoiled brat named Betty trouble ensues that will force Tinto to travel across the oceans to recover his beloved donkey in an English mansion.

Red Balloon’s Dorothe Beinemeir said that instead of going the “Paddington” route and opting for a mechanical animal, the donkey will likely instead be real, animated with VFX, in order to keep the budget under €5 million ($5.8 million). She can be considered a specialist, having co-produced “My Giraffe,” about a talking giraffe, which screened in Berlin this year.

Having a real donkey will “make it different from all the Pixar movies,” noted Maze Pictures’s Philipp Kreuzer. He also pointed out that some narrative aspects of the German classic from the 1950’s will need to be updated. The producers are also playing up the pic’s film franchise and TV spin-off potential.

The book, which has been translated in a dozen languages, was published in Germany as an audiobook in 2006, voiced by German star Juliane Kohler (“Downfall”) who could play one of the lead adult characters in the film.