Film version of Shoebox Zoo TV hit ‘to rival Harry Potter’

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Senay Boztas, Arts Correspondent for The Sunday Herald, 25th September 2005

THE “ambitious” film version of hit children’s TV series Shoebox Zoo, currently in development, will rival blockbusters such as the Harry Potter series, according to its producers.

Claire Mundell, executive producer of the movie, has revealed the film will be crafted in the “fantasy genre”, pitting it against favourites such as the Potter films and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

The BBC is funding the development of the movie.

The script, which is in its second draft, tells the story of the mysterious wizard Michael Scot and his Book Of Forbidden Knowledge, lost a century ago. When Marnie McBride, a young girl from Denver, Colorado, arrives in Edinburgh with her father after the death of her mother, she stumbles upon a magic shoebox in an old junk shop.

She, it appears, has been chosen by Scot – an alchemist based on a real-life historical figure – to find this book, with the help of the digitally animated animals from the box.

BBC Worldwide and BBC Scotland are supporting the creation of the screenplay, which will be put to a variety of funders in Canada, Scotland and across the world at Christmas.

The television programme, which has its second series screened on the CBBC channel later this month, has been sold to 27 countries, and there are rumours it could be in the running for an Emmy award.

Mundell, who is writing the script with the series director Justin Molotnikov and writer Brian Ward, said they have great ambitions.

“We are very hopeful it could stand up as a worthy member of the fantasy genre that includes Harry Potter – we have the story, and the talent. The strategy for the film is an ambitious one. It won’t be low budget, as the animation needs to be of the highest quality.

“It is a great project for Scotland, and we hope to be able to realise it with the right level of production value. Predominantly, the story is set in Scotland, so we would be doing a lot of filming in Scotland.”

The team will approach potential partners, funders and studios later this year. Mundell said they may work with the same companies as they did for the television series: Los Angeles-based Blueprint Entertainment, Alberta Filmworks and Calibre Digital Pictures in Canada.

Shoebox Zoo, which will be screened again on BBC1 next year, has a star-studded cast of characters, many of whom will be invited to work on the film. Peter Mullan plays Scot, the wizard, while Alan Cumming provides the voice for Bruno, the animated kind-hearted bear, Rik Mayall voices the pompous eagle and Simon Callow is wily Wolfgang the wolf.

Siobhan Redmond plays Ailsa, the sly adder, while the young Canadian actress Vivien Endicott-Douglas and Jason Connery – son of Sir Sean – play Marnie and her father.

“It is very early stages, with regards to the cast,” said Mundell. “We have had an amazing cast, and we would want to try and build on some of those relationships, but we haven’t had those conversations yet. It is just a very universal story, and had the same impact in America as in Russia, as a children’s and family show but with a wide range of appeal.”

Ward, who is working on the second draft, said that it is a compelling story.

“It is a feature film that has to compete with the likes of Harry Potter and Shrek, so it is a much bigger thing than the series but has a lot of the same elements,” he said.

“It is a re-imagining of Shoebox Zoobut takes the journey further into the past, with more of Michael Scot, the figure of myth and legend. We see him in Toledo, where he studied and was alchemist to the court of the Roman emperor, mentioned in history by people from Dante to Isaac Newton.

“I have been trying to put him in a story for a time, and treat him as a figure of myth – although it is not as historically accurate as some historians might like,” he added.