'NIMH' adaptation in works

Paramount developing new feature based on the novel

Paramount smells a rat.

As rodents prove surprisingly likable on the big screen, the studio is developing a feature version of the award-winning children's tale "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH."

Director Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") is in talks to write the screenplay, and former Walden exec Cary Granat is on board to produce.

A pic would be the second theatrical go-round for the book, which MGM brought to the screen in 1982 as the animated "The Secret of NIMH," directed by Don Bluth.

Robert C. O'Brien's "Rats of NIMH" won the Newbery Medal in 1972 and has been a staple in children's bookstores and libraries since. The story centers on a mouse -- the titular Mrs. Frisby, re-named Mrs. Brisby in the MGM movie -- faced with a crisis when her son falls ill and she must move her family to escape a farmer's plow.

Mrs. Frisby enlists a group of former lab rats, whom she soon discovers run a highly evolved society, who possess advanced technologies and divide labor in the manner of a human community.

Formerly relegated to sidekick status, rodents have recently come into their own as leading, er, men. This weekend "G-Force," which centers on a mission undertaken by a group of CG guinea pigs, took the boxoffice cheese, earning $32 million and besting holdover "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Those familiar with "NIMH" noted, however, that the material had elements of a parable and reflected more serious ideas than the comparatively light comedy of "G-Force."

It's likely the new "NIMH" would combine live-action and animation in the manner of "Alvin & the Chipmunks" and other kiddie hybrids.

Granat is a family-fare veteran, producing pics at Walden that include "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D" and serving as exec producer in the first pic in the "Spy Kids" franchise.

"NIMH" would be Burger's first foray into family fare. The CAA-repped writer-director's previous work includes the Ed Norton period magician tale "The Illusionist" and the Tim Robbins post-Iraq pic "The Lucky Ones." He's also on board to write the "Bride of Frankenstein" reboot at Universal."