EXCLUSIVE: Brett Ratner and James Packer’s RatPac Entertainment have acquired the Jon Mooallem article American Hippopotamus for Class 5 Films and RatPac for a feature film. Class 5′s Edward Norton and William Migliore will produce with RatPac’s Ratner. They will frame a feature around a difficult-to-believe but true story.
Responding to a meat shortage in the U.S. in 1910, two bitter enemies joined forces to try and import hippopotamuses to the swamps of Louisiana and convince Americans to eat them. Even though Theodore Roosevelt and The New York Times endorsed the plan, the fact that you don’t find hippo on the menu shows how well their campaign fared. Key to the movie is the rivalry of the hippo duo, both of whom were spies. Frederick Russell Burnham was a frontiersman and freelance adventurer whose exploits were the inspiration for the Boy Scouts, and he teamed with Fritz Duquesne, aka the Black Panther, a virtuoso con man and cynical saboteur who believed only in his own glorification and revenge. Burnham and Duquesne only recently had been under orders to assassinate each other, and they would return to being bitter enemies. But they took a break to try and get American hungry for hippos.
The book was published by the digital imprint The Atavist last December. Class 5’s Stuart Blumberg, The Atavist’s Evan Ratliff, and RatPac’s Packer will be exec producers, and John Cheng is overseeing for RatPac. This is the second pic project for Class 5 and RatPac, whose principals Norton and Ratner have a relationship that goes back to when they worked together on the 2002 adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novel Red Dragon. They are also partnered on Motherless Brooklyn, which Norton will direct and star in from a script he wrote based on the novel. RatPac’s fully financing, and Ratner is producing with Norton and Migliore.