Noah Baumbach, the writer/director best known for 'The Squid and the Whale,' won't be adding penguins to his menagerie any time soon.

Baumbach had been in talks with Twentieth Century Fox to direct 'Mr. Popper's Penguins,' an adaptation of the 1938 kiddie-lit classic. Plus, Ben Stiller, star of Baumbach's current indie film 'Greenberg,' had been in talks to play the (human) lead, meaning Fox could have had a surefire 'Night at the Museum'-type family hit on its hands.

Now, however, Baumbach is out, reports the Los Angeles Times' 24 Frames blog. Which means Stiller may follow him out the door. Noah Baumbach, the writer/director best known for 'The Squid and the Whale,' won't be adding penguins to his menagerie any time soon.

Baumbach had been in talks with Twentieth Century Fox to direct 'Mr. Popper's Penguins,' an adaptation of the 1938 kiddie-lit classic. Plus, Ben Stiller, star of Baumbach's current indie film 'Greenberg,' had been in talks to play the (human) lead, meaning Fox could have had a surefire 'Night at the Museum'-type family hit on its hands.

Now, however, Baumbach is out, reports the Los Angeles Times' 24 Frames blog. Which means Stiller may follow him out the door.

The novel, by Richard and Florence Atwater, is about a house painter who dreams of polar exploration. His fan letter to one explorer leads to his house being overrun by penguins. The absurdity continues as Mr. Popper organizes the 12 birds into a performing troupe. The book won the Newbery award for children's literature in 1939.

The reason for the split between Fox and Baumbach (who had not yet reached a formal agreement)? Creative differences, reports the Times. Which probably means money. After all, bringing a star like Stiller aboard means upgrading the film to a big-budget spectacle, something indie stalwart Baumbach has never directed.

Perhaps Fox, looking at the example of Spike Jonze's costly, delay-plagued take on 'Where the Wild Things Are' (a film that grossed just under $100 million worldwide, about what it cost to make), balked at handing the reins of a similar project over to Baumbach. But for Stiller (who also had no formal deal with Fox), re-teaming with Baumbach was the project's draw, so the director's departure may cost the film its most bankable element anyway.

Baumbach does have children's-book adaptation credentials. He co-wrote (with director Wes Anderson) last year's animated version of Roald Dahl's 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' Critics adored the movie, and its cost was just $40 million (modest for a stop-motion animated film), though it grossed only $43 million worldwide.

Still, the trend of auteurist filmmakers who are usually associated with adult dramas deciding to adapt kiddie-lit books into family films isn't about to stop. Up next: Martin Scorsese's 3-D version of 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret,' due in December 2011.

CATEGORIES Movies