DISNEY RETURNING TO 2-D ONLY, SAYS REPORT

John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are planning to return the Walt Disney Co.'s studios in Burbank to its roots as a "traditional" (hand-drawn) animation company exclusively, while Pixar will continue to turn out computer-animated (CG) features, Disney watcher Jim Hill reported on his website www.jimhillmedia.com today (Tuesday). In doing so, Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Disney Animation, and Catmull, the unit's president, will be reversing Disney's efforts over the past three years to, in Hill's words, "retrain that studio's staff as well as to change Disney Feature Animation into a state-of-the-art CG operation." Hill observed that the plan has not yet been "entirely embraced" by Disney CEO Robert Iger. One result of the about-face, Hill noted, has been the cancellation of Disney's plans to produce the computer-animated American Dog, a movie conceived and supervised by Chris Sanders, who ironically was responsible for Disney's last big hand-drawn hit, Lilo and Stitch.

HOT PURSUIT

Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness left all rivals in hot pursuit over the weekend as the movie took in $26.5 million, well ahead of the expected winner, 20th Century Fox's Eragon, which earned $23.2 million.A third new film, the live-action Charlotte's Web, took third place with $11.5 million. All other films were left in the dust, including last week's winner, Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, which dropped 50 percent to $8 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Pursuit of Happyness, Sony, $26,541,709, (New); 2. Eragon, 20th Century Fox, $23,239,907, (New); 3. Charlotte's Web, Paramount, $11,457,353, (New); 4. Happy Feet, Warner Bros. $8,358,421, 5 Wks. ($149,244,791); 5. The Holiday, Sony, $8,014,713, 2 Wks. ($25,125,052); 6. Apocalypto, Disney, $8,008,126, 2 Wks. ($28,209,532); 7. Blood Diamond, Warner Bros. $6,517,471, 2 Wks. ($18,637,257); 8. Casino Royale, Sony, $5,627,644, 5 Wks. ($137,501,384); 9. The Nativity Story, New Line, $4,656,376, 3 Wks. ($23,012,695); 10. Unaccompanied Minors, Warner Bros. $3,545,352, 2 Wks. ($10,093,267).

CRUISE PLANNING SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE STARRING EX-SPICE GIRL

Tom Cruise is planning to follow in the footsteps of John Travolta and make a movie based on the ideas of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. According to the London Daily Star, Cruise has already cast former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, the wife of soccer star David Beckham, to star in the movie, titled The Thetan in the role of an "alien bride." In Hubbard's thinking, "the thetan" is the spiritual part of man that advances from one lifetime to the next, inhabiting the minds and bodies of generations of individuals. According to the tabloid, Cruise is financing the movie on his own after the major studios rejected it. Travolta's $73-million movie based on Hubbard's sci-fi novel Battlefield Earth was a major flop, grossing just $21 million at the domestic box office.

CABLE SUBSCRIBERS GET VOD MOVIES SAME DAY AS DVD

For the first time, cable subscribers will be able to watch movies on the same day as they are released on DVD as a result of a deal between Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, and several major studios. Comcast is currently testing the video-on-demand (VOD) service in Denver and Pittsburgh, according to published reports appearing today (Tuesday). The trial began quietly on Nov. 28 with little hoopla in an apparent effort to avoid a clash with DVD rental giants like Blockbuster, which have heretofore enjoyed a window of at least a month between the time films are released on DVD and the time they hit cable for on-demand viewing. Bruce Leichtman, who heads the Leichtman Research Group, told the Denver Post that the same-day VOD service represents "the ultimate convenience of not leaving your home. It's not movies over the Internet but straight to your TV."

DYLAN THREATENS TO SUE OVER FACTORY GIRL

Bob Dylan has launched a legal battle to prevent a movie based on the life of Edie Sedgwick, a member of Andy Warhol's Factory, from being released. The movie Factory Girl, is scheduled to be released by The Weinstein Company on Dec. 29. According to initial reviews of the movie, it implies that Sedgwick's death came after she plunged into heroin addiction after Dylan broke off his relationship with her in the late '60s. In the film, the Dylan character, played by Hayden Christensen, is named Danny Quinn and is supposedly based on several men Sedgwick knew prior to her suicide in November 1971. But Orin Snyder, Dylan's attorney, maintained that the Quinn character defames his client. (Christensen reportedly wears a scarf similar to the one Dylan wore on his Blonde on Blonde album.) "You appear to be laboring under the misunderstanding that merely changing the name of a character or making him a purported fictional composite will immunize you from suit," Snyder said in his letter. "That is not so."

Brian B.