As part of a visible pushinto producing and distributing family-friendly entertainment, Miramax Filmshas acquired the worldwide rights outside Asia to the next Pokemon movie sequel, out-bidding Warner Bros to the fourth film in the Japanese anime cash-cow about evolutionary pocket monsters.

As reported in the LosAngeles Times yesterday, Miramaxpaid an estimated upfront fee of just $1m, but promised Pokemon's Japanese rights-holders back-end profits ofas much as 75% of revenues stemming from its theatrical, home video and televisiondistribution. In addition, Miramaxhas an option on the fifth Pokemon picture in the series, which is currently in production at Japan's Shogakukan Productions.

Miramax plans to release Pokemon 4: The Movie -- Celebi: A Timeless Encounter, this autumn around Thanksgiving, and distribute the sequel throughout the rest of the world. The film opened in Japan last July, and has grossed 3.8bn yen ($32m) to date,making it one of Japan's top ten grossing films of 2001. This fourth installment stars the newest Pokemon character, the wingedgreen Celebi, whose time-traveling skills bring new adventures to Ash, Pikachu, and their friends.

"This is an incredible addition to our growing slate of family films," commented Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. Speaking the day before to the L.A. Times, Weinstein also said he hoped to deploy a "bolder, smarter marketingcampaign" than the one used by Warner Bros for the first threefilms. Although that initial trioof films has grossed more than $145m in North America for Warner, the franchisehas seen diminishing returns each time out, with the most recent Pokemon collecting a mere $17m domestically.

All told, however, the Pokemon phenomenon has reaped an astonishing $16bn ofrevenues across its various guises on both the big and small screen. Pokemon:The First Movie was also a hit forWarner Bros International, enjoying a record-breaking opening weekend in 11international markets in April 2000, when it grossed $14.6m and landing atnumber one in five markets - Germany, the UK, Spain, Israel and Finland. Warnerstill controls the rights to two Pokemon television series, which are aired on the Kids WB! Network.

Having already branchedout into genre films through Dimension, Miramax has now set its sights onfamily films that would offer a distinct alternative to those offered by itsparent company Walt Disney as it taps into an insatiable audience hunger fornon-adult features. Although two-thirds of all theatrical releases last yearwere R-rated, seventeen of the twenty films that grossed $100m or more in NorthAmerica carried non-adult certificates.

Ironically enough,Miramax Films was unable to make a box office success of its previousinvolvement in anime, collecting little more than $2.3m from the North Americanrelease of Princess Mononoke.Since then, however, it struck gold in the family arena with the release of SpyKids, a $116m domestic hit thatproved company's most successful box office hit of last year.

At the AFM this year,Miramax and Dimension signed a multi-year multi-picture agreement with Keystone Entertainment, whose family film franchise Air Budis distributed in the US by Miramax. Under the deal, Miramax has the option toacquire US rights to Keystone's developed and produced output, and has agreedto release a minimum of two of Keystone's family films per year over the nextthree years.

Also on Miramax'supcoming slate is: Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio; Marc Forster's Neverland starring Johnny Depp as Peter Pan creator J.M.Barrie; The Magic Brush, aChinese animated fairy tale to be produced by Centro Digital Pictures in HongKong; Tommy O'Haver's Ella Enchanted; an adaptation of A Cricket In Time Square that is set to be Miramax first computer-effects drivenproject; and a Tribeca Films-produced adaptation of Eoin Colfer's ArtemisFowl whose story of a 12-year-oldboy genius trying to steal the fairies' pot of gold carries with itshades of Harry Potter only withmuch more action.

The Pokemon deal was negotiated on behalf of Miramax by Stuart Ford, co-head and senior vice-president of acquisitions and international operations, Sean McPhillips, director of acquisitions, and Michael Helfant, senior executive vice-president ofDimension Films. Masakazu Kubo, the film'sexecutive producer, negotiated in Japan on behalf of the Japanese moviepartners. Chiba and Kei Taoka, vice-president, negotiated in the US on behalfof Pokemon USA, Inc. Bruce Loeb, Pokemon USA's vice-president of marketing, will oversee the film's release with Miramax.

Pokemon 4, which is based on the original creation by Satoshi Tajiri, is producedby Shogakukan Productions, executive produced by Masakazu Kubo and KoujiKawaguchi, and supervised by Tsunekazu Ishihara. The American "localization"will be handled by 4Kids Production.