Disney is set to rescue another Neil Gaiman project from development hell

Neil Gaiman
(Image credit: Harper Collins)

Neil Gaiman's bestselling children's story, The Graveyard Book, finally looks set to hit the big screen. 

Released in the autumn of 2008, The Graveyard Book has been a huge success for Gaiman. It won both the British Carnegie Medal and the American Newbery Medal – both of which recognized the year's best children's books – as well as the annual Hugo Award for Best Novel from the World Science Fiction Convention.

What's more, Chris Riddell, who illustrated the British version of the book, was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal (a UK literary prize) alongside Gaiman. It was the first time in the award's 30-year history that one book made both the author and illustrator shortlists. 

The Graveyard Book follows Nobody “Bod” Owen, a young boy who is raised by the ghosts and supernatural beings who dwell inside a graveyard after his family are brutally murdered. 

As he grows up, Bod is taught supernatural skills, including the ability to turn invisible and a knowledge of how to go into other people's dreams and control the dream. Set across eight chapters, each is a short story, with every instalment set two years after the preceding chapter. 

The book was first destined for the big screen in 2009 when Byzantium director Neil Jordan signed on to write and direct an adaptation, backed by Miramax. That didn't come together, and the rights passed to CJ Entertainment, a company which had strong ties to Harry Potter and Mrs Doubtfire director Chris Columbus. 

Again, nothing materialised on that front, and, in 2012, Walt Disney Pictures acquired the rights and hired Henry Selick, director of The Nightmare Before Christmas to make it. Disney put the adaptation at Pixar, where it was due to become the company's first adapted work.

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(Image credit: Courtesy of Disney)

Despite Gaiman and Selick having worked together successfully on Coraline, Selick and Disney didn't see eye to eye and the former left the project in 2013, at which point Ron Howard stepped in take over. Then things truly went quiet.

Now, according to Deadline, things finally seem to be moving with Marc Foster, director of World War Z and James Bond movie Quantum Of Solace, attached to make the movie.

Disney have kept hold of the rights and tasked David Magee, whose credits include the new live-action take on The Little Mermaid and Netflix's big-budget new young adult blockbuster The School For Good and Evil, to write the script.

Gaiman is enjoying a rich vein of form when it comes to his work being taken to the screen. Firstly, Netflix will release the long-awaited adaptation of The Sandman on August 5, a show with a development history even more complicated than The Graveyard Book. As well as that, the author is overseeing the second season of Prime Video's Good Omens, which is filming as we speak, with Michael Sheen and David Tennant returning to reprise their roles.

Also for Prime Video, Gaiman's 2005 novel Anansi Boys is being adapted. The cast for that series, which follows the two sons of the African spider-god Anansi, will see Small Axe breakout star Malachi Kirby and The Good Fight's Delroy Lindo lead the way, while Lenny Henry has worked on the adaptation alongside Gaiman. 

Sadly, Gaiman's 2013 novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, while a successful play, remains stuck in development hell after director Joe Wright left the adaptation in 2019.

Still, it seems the celebrated author has enough to be getting on with.

Analysis: About damn time...

Neil Gaiman's gift for mixing the macabre with wonder is without parallel and The Graveyard Book might be the finest example of that. It deserves to be a movie. 

Forster's record, though, is patchy. Quantum Of Solace was a real low-ebb for Daniel Craig and the 007 franchise full stop and World War Z's production was a mess, but he does have form with kid-focused movies like 2004's Finding Neverland, which was nominated for seven Oscars, and his 2018 take on Christopher Robin for Disney. 

Gaiman's adventures have a decent record, too. The Princess Bride-esque romp Stardust is great fun, chilling family adventure Coraline is a total classic and Good Omens was a quirky, clever adaptation which kept to the book's madcap spirit. 

Let's hope, this time, Forster can finally bring The Graveyard Book out of development hell.  

The Sandman, Gaiman's next adaptation, has an even longer history in development hell than The Graveyard Book. Read about it here. 

Tom Goodwyn
Freelance Entertainment Writer

Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…