Simon & Schuster Inc. is reviewing its legal options against The Walt Disney Co. and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan over what the author of a children’s book says are similarities between its plot and the film “The Village,” a spokeswoman for the publisher said Monday.
“The Village,” the latest thriller by Shyamalan, took in $50.8 million at the box office in its first weekend, the best opening this year for Disney, which has failed to produce any other major hits.
The film, which slipped to second place last weekend, has grossed $85.6 million. Last week reports circulated that its plot and surprise ending parallel Margaret Peterson Haddix’s first book “Running Out of Time,” published in 1995.
Haddix told Reuters that she heard about the similarities last week when when fans — and then journalists — began calling and e-mailing her and her publisher to ask if she had sold the book to Shyamalan. She said she has never spoken to ”The Sixth Sense” director or to Disney.
“It’s certainly an interesting situation,” Haddix said. “I’m just examining what my options are.”
In a statement, Disney and Shyamalan’s Blinding Edge Pictures said they “believe these claims to be meritless.”
Shyamalan has battled a copyright lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania screenwriter who claimed the plot from the 2002 film “Signs” mirrored his unproduced script “Lord of the Barrens.”
In “Running Out of Time” and “The Village,” adults in a bucolic 19th century town keep the same secret from their children, and a plucky tomboy journeys through dangerous woods to get medicine.
Haddix said she optioned the book twice — once to Viacom Inc.-owned Nickelodeon, which allowed the option to expire in May 2003 without making a film.
She saw “The Village” last week but declined to discuss her opinion of the film. “Let’s just say that I saw the same similarities that other people have pointed out,” she said.
Lawyers for Simon & Schuster also were reviewing their legal options, spokeswoman Tracy van Straaten said.
“This is a children’s book...that sold more than half a million copies and won prizes, so it’s not an obscure book for us,” van Straaten said. The book was nominated for an Edgar Award, the nation’s top prize for mystery stories.
Haddix, who said she got the idea for “Running Out of Time” while working as a journalist in Indiana, has published 16 books, including the popular “Shadow Children” series.
Simon & Schuster is the publishing arm of Viacom.