'Gnomeo' Doth Have a Producer

Walt Disney Studios' Miramax Films has struck a deal with Elton John's Rocket Pictures to develop and produce "Gnomeo & Juliet."

"I am very excited about working with Miramax," John said. " 'Gnomeo' is an edgy concept, and Miramax is the perfect home to push the envelope in animation."

Miramax chief Daniel Battsek aggressively pursued the computer-animated musical based on William Shakespeare's tragic romance after Walt Disney Feature Animation, under the purview of Pixar Animation Studios' John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, shut down development on "Gnomeo" late last month.

"I have had a long-standing relationship with Rocket Prods. and have been following this project since I was at (Buena Vista International)," Battsek said. "I was thrilled when the opportunity arose to bring 'Gnomeo' to Miramax."

Battsek approached Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook about bringing the project over to his shingle as soon as he learned WDFA had shut down development on "Gnomeo," a Miramax spokeswoman said. Although the terms of the deal were not disclosed, the transfer of the material from WDFA in Burbank to Miramax in London was a natural because both are Disney divisions.

The new London-based team will proceed with plans to engage Academy Award-winning lyricist Tim Rice to collaborate with John on songs for the film. Four-time Oscar nominee Kate Winslet remains attached to voice Juliet.

Baker Bloodworth, a longtime Disney animation producer and Academy Award nominee, is serving as producer and guiding production of "Gnomeo & Juliet" in the U.K. Bloodworth is in the process of relocating from Los Angeles to Britain, where he plans to find a computer-animation studio to produce the film.

Bloodworth worked at Disney on 1991's "Beauty and the Beast" and 2000's "Dinosaur." He was nominated for an Oscar in 2004 for "Destino," an animated short that was a collaboration begun by Salvador Dali and Walt Disney in 1945 and finished under the leadership of Roy E. Disney and Bloodworth.

Originally scripted by Rob Sprackling and John Smith, "Gnomeo & Juliet" was brought to Walt Disney Feature Animation several years ago by Rocket Pictures. The first script has since been rewritten by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley.

Battsek took over Miramax Films as president in July. His first acquisition for the mini-major, Gavin Hood's "Tsotsi," won an Oscar last month for best foreign-language film.

Under the Miramax Films banner and with Bloodworth's oversight in London, the team hopes to retain the sharpness, flair and British sensibility expected of an animated twist on Shakespeare's classic tale set in the world of tacky garden gnomes.

Sheigh Crabtree writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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