Michael Eisner Returns to Movies With Universal Deal

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Says Michael Eisner: "Not sure it's appropriate, but I'm honored. And the best thing is that I'm not being honored posthumously."

The former Disney CEO's privately held Tornante Co. inks a multiyear pact with the studio for worldwide distribution of feature films.

Michael Eisner’s Tornante Co. has sealed a multiyear worldwide distribution deal with Universal Pictures for feature films, the company announced Tuesday.

This marks an expansion of the activities by Tornante, a privately held company founded in 2005 that until now had focused on investments and acquisitions in media and entertainment companies in the digital and online world.

Eisner, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Co., is partnered in Tornante with Dearborn Partners, a Chicago-based private-equity firm. In 2007, they acquired The Topps Co., which for 50 years has created and marketed sports trading cards and other entertainment products.

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Eisner was the top executive at Disney for 21 years until he departed in 2005.

The announcement does not specify how many years the deal will run or what movies Universal will be distributing. One project associated with Eisner, which now might go through Universal, is an animated movie based on Garbage Pail Kids.

Created by cartoonist Art Spiegelman, Garbage Pail Kids first took life as a series of Topps trading cards featuring images of Cabbage Patch Kids on otherwise disfigured children. The cards were wildly popular in the mid-1980s.

A film based on the characters was released in 1987 in association with Topps but was not successful. Released by the now-defunct Atlantic Entertainment Group, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie grossed only about $1.5 million and was nominated for three Razzie Awards.

CNBC reported in May that Eisner was working with JP Morgan to raise $800 million for a new film and TV production company. He was said to be seeking $400 million in equity and another $400 million in debt financing to make four or five movies a year and to produce two or three scripted TV series. According to CNBC, Eisner planned to personally invest $20 million in the company.

Tornante’s other properties include an animation company; new media studio Vuguru; and digital businesses such as Activate, WhoWhatWear, Task Rabbit, Zumox and AirTime.

Vuguru develops and finances story-driven content for digital and international platforms. Its projects have included The Booth at the End for Hulu and Little Women, Big Cars for AOL. It has licensing and distribution deals with AOL and Yahoo as well as an output deal for international distribution through FremantleMedia Enterprises.