It's a game of '51' pickup for NL's first toon


New Line is venturing into the animation business for the first time in its 40-year history by acquiring Ilion Animation Studios' $60 million feature "Planet 51" from Handmade Films International.

Written by Joe Stillman ("Shrek"), the story is set on Planet 51, whose inhabitants live in fear of an alien invasion. Their paranoia is realized when astronaut Capt. Charles "Chuck" Baker arrives from Earth. Befriended by a young resident, the astronaut has to avoid capture in order to recover his spaceship and return home.

The film is produced by Ignacio Perez Dolset, directed by Jorge Blanco and co-directed by Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez, who worked with Blanco on the worldwide best-selling video game "Commandos."

Ilion set up a studio in Spain five years ago to start work on "Planet 51," where it developed technology in-house.

"Planet 51" is in production and scheduled for completion in March 2009. A search for A-list voice cast is under way. The project already has sold to more than 30 territories.

New Line is planning to release the movie in 2009 backed up with a merchandising push. A video game is in production at Pyro Studios and will roll out across the five leading console platforms. Also involved is mobile phone marketing and development company LaNetro Zed.

New Line's Guy Stodel and Sejin Park and will oversee.