DIC departs from Disney

DIC Entertainment has left Disney World. The Hollywood-based animation studio, with the financial help of equity firm Bain Capital Inc., finally bought back its own assets from The Walt Disney Co. last week-a move long anticipated in the kids programming industry.

DIC, the producers of such animated series as
Inspector Gadget, Sonic The Hedgehog

, is now free to produce and distribute its fare to all comers outside and even inside the Disney gates. The studio had been partnered with Disney since 1995 and will continue to co-produce for them.

DIC Chairman and CEO Andy Heyward led the buyback from Disney, a "complicated" deal that he says will include future development and licensing efforts between the two studios. Neither side commented on the financial aspects, but it's believed to be worth well over $100 million.

"We spent five years with Disney and during that time we got a lot of things done. I think we still have about one-third of the schedule on
Toon Disney
, we do a lot of videos with Buena Vista Home Video and we have things with ABC," Heyward says. "So there are a lot of good things there, but at the same time, there were things that we couldn't do because Disney was so busy building and will always be busy building and supporting the Disney businesses. I understand that, but I think all of us yearned to be in a more entrepreneurial environment and now we are."

As part of the ongoing association between the two companies, Disney has renewed
Sabrina, The

Animated Series

on ABC and has ordered another 26 episodes of

for The Disney Channel. The two sides are also co-producing two animated direct-to-video films through Buena Vista Home Video and are doing a sequel for the movie
Inspector Gadget

Outside of its co-productions with Disney, Heyward says the studio is currently in production on new series
Poor Richard's Almanac

for PBS and four other individual series, including a

spin-off. Heyward says the animated spin-off,

will be ready for next season.

Also on DIC's platter is an animated project with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (aka the Olsen twins), the animated series
Super Duper Sumos

and another project based on a "major motion picture." DIC also wants a future in the international marketplace, where it has not been able to sell outside of the Disney-family.