American actor Breckin Meyer will be the voice of Pinocchio in the US version of Roberto Benigni's Italian blockbuster, to be released in North America on December 25th.

Meyer - whose credits include Clueless, Rat Race and The Insider - joins Glenn Close, who will dub the Blue Fairy - played in the original by Benigni's wife, Nicoletta Braschi.

Both Benigni and Braschi were originally set to dub their own voices into English, but backed out after saying they didn't feel satisfied with the result.

The Rome office of Miramax also said that British comic actor John Cleese will dub the voice of the Cricket.

In the meantime, Miramax Italia is pressing ahead with several local productions, as part of its drive to up its involvement and profile in Italian cinema.

New films include La Porta Del Cielo, the story of the filming of Vittorio De Sica's eponymous film during World War II. The movie, which will be directed by Christian De Sica - Vittorio's son - will go into production in Rome in 2003. De Sica will play his father in the film.

Fabrizio Lombardo, who heads Miramax's Italian operation, is developing a remake of Ettore Scola's 1974 acclaimed We Loved Each Other So Much (C'eravamo Tanto Amati), a film about three men who become friends while fighting the Nazis in 1944.

The English-language remake is being written by Mike Weller and will be directed by Italy's Gabriele Muccino (The Last Kiss).

Also in development is a project from Davide Ferrario, an as-yet untitled Italian American football comedy based on his own pitch. Miramax is currently looking for an Italian partner. "Our aim is not to fight other producers but to rather to join forces with Italian partners," Lombardo said.

Lombardo also told that Miramax is currently actively looking for new Italian projects to buy. Previous acquisitions have included The Son's Room and Pinocchio.

"I am very excited about Italian cinema at the moment. We are very excited about Pinocchio and the release of Gangs Of New York, which was shot entirely at Cinecitta. And there have also been some very good results at the Italian box office," Lombardo said, adding: "Pinocchio recently won an award as the top-grossing film of the year. And there are other Italian Christmas releases that should also do extremely well at the box office."

Potential seasonal blockbusters include Aurelio De Laurentiis's new annual Yuletide comedy, Holidays On The Nile, starring Christian De Sica and Massimo Boldi, and comic sensation Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo's The Legend Of Al, John And Jack, which is distributed by Medusa.