Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures beat out four studios today to acquire a pitch for a new film version of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Secret Garden that will be scripted by Oscar-nominated Beasts Of The Southern Wild co-writer Lucy Alibar. She will work closely with Guillermo del Toro, who’ll produce with Mark Johnson. Del Toro and Johnson are re-teaming after they produced the 2011 feature remake of the classic ABC telepic Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.

There was a swirl of interest in the hope that del Toro could direct, but he’s so busy with his other projects–he opens the big global tent pole Pacific Rim this summer and is working on a sequel; he’s turning Pan’s Labyrinth into a stage musical; he next helms the haunted house pic Crimson Peak; and he’ll direct the pilot for an FX series adaptation of The Strain, the apocalyptic vampire novel he wrote with Chuck Hogan–that del Toro will guide Alibar creatively as producer. Both of them have had success with projects surrounding young people who build fantasy worlds as a way of dealing with loneliness, grief, loss and abandonment (del Toro with Pan’s Labyrinth). In both cases, the girls create mythic threatening beasts they are forced to outmaneuver or stare down.

In The Secret Garden, an orphaned girl is sent to live with her reclusive uncle and discovers a hidden garden containing magical secrets. This project will take on its own original path from other stage and screen adaptations seen in recent years. Word around town is that it will be set in the American South at the turn of the 20th Century. I’ve heard the pitch deal was mid-six figures. The last major adaptation of The Secret Garden was the 1993 pic directed by Agnieska Holland for Warner Bros. Johnson also produced the 1995 Alfonso Cuaron-directed A Little Princess, also based on a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Alibar made her feature debut on Beasts Of The Southern Wild, which is an adaptation of her play Juicy and Delicious. She wrote the script with director Benh Zeitlin. Alibar is repped by Gersh and Manage-ment’s Dan Halsted, while del Toro is repped by WME and Exile Entertainment’s Gary Ungar.

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