Walden Media to bring beloved Berenstain Bears to the big screen

It’s a bear market for one group of moviemakers.  Shawn Levy, director of the Night at the Museum movies, has signed on to produce a feature film based on The Berenstain Bears books, a comedy he says will be a mix of live-action and computer animation.

Walden Media, the company behind the Chronicles of Narnia films, has acquired the rights to the ursine anthropomorphs, and Levy agreed to help oversee the project.

The books, by Jan and the late Stan Berenstain, have maintained their popularity for almost a half-century. The characters were first published in 1962 in The Big Honey Hunt.

“To stand that kind of test of time is pretty formidable,” says Levy, who will produce the film through his company, 21 Laps. “People read them as kids and can now read them to their kids. Any piece of culture that proves that enduring has something special in its DNA.”

Though his next film is the more adult Tina Fey-Steve Carell comedy Date Night, the Berenstain films “happen to fit firmly within the wheelhouse of family-genre comedy I do, whether it’s Cheaper by the Dozen or Night at the Museum,” Levy says. “It’s warm-hearted comedy about family, and a different kind of family.”

Writers have yet to be hired, but Levy says he wants the film to be an original story incorporating details from some of the more popular Berenstain books.

“I’d like the film to be un-ironic about its family connections but have a wry comedic sensibility that isn’t oblivious to the fact that they’re bears,” Levy says. “The comedy comes from this bear family coexisting in a more recognizably real world.”

Levy compared his vision of the film to the tone of Will Ferrell’s Elf, which had a sweet, earnest hero who clashed with his cynical surroundings. “I think the movie will be witty but never sarcastic,” he says.

Walden Media CEO Michael Bostick says it’s vital to honor the “goodwill from generations of families” who have enjoyed the books, but he compares the characters to other outcast families “like The Beverly Hillbillies or The Addams Family, who don’t quite fit in but manage to survive.”

The Berenstain Bears have existed as 2-D illustrations for so long, they are also getting “a slight makeover to bring it into the three-dimensional style, but we’ll embrace the core design elements,” Bostick says. “It’ll be a slightly modern spin on their look.”

Bostick hopes a screenplay will be finished and in preproduction late next year, with the earliest release date being late 2011. “Believe it or not, in this business that’s a fast-track,” he says.

-via USA Today

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