Europe's most expensive animated feature, Simsala Grimm, is finally poised to go into production in May under the direction of cartoon veteran Gerd Hahn.

Drawn from a Russian fairy tale, the long-in-development theatrical version sees the return of the evil characters from the eponymous TV series who attempt to take over the land of Simsala.

Represented internationally by Dutch company Greenlight International, the $30m film is fully financed by Berlin Animation Film which amassed a DM170m production fund. The fund, which closed in late 1999, has been used to bankroll seven TV series and will be exhausted when it has paid out for the feature.

The screenplay has been through several stages of development and is now being given a final polish by Eric Hansen and Astrid Ule.

"The series was sold in over 130 territories worldwide either for TV and/or video. I have absolutely no doubt of the demand," said Rick van Den Heuvel, Greenlight president and CEO. "With the budget assured and the script now nearly completed, the key elements we need to secure now are some top US voice cast and a triple-A artist for the music."

Production will take place at the Berlin-based Hahn Studios, using a mixture of cell animation and digitally generated images.

Greenlight has been enjoying recent success with its feature documentary Armani: A Man of All Seasons. It has secured theatrical releases through Comstock for Japan, Mirovision for Korea and also in Germany.