Writer-director M Night Shyamalan and THE WALT DISNEY CO are bracing themselves for legal action, after a children's author declared similarities between her book and new movie The Village.

The Village, the latest thriller by Shyamalan, stars Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody and has proved to be a hit at the American office.

But now that much-needed success - Disney has endured a string of flops this year (04) - has been marred by publisher SIMON + SCHUSTER INC's announcement it is reviewing its legal options against the company and Shyamalan.

Last week (ends06AUG04), reports circulated that The Village's plot and surprise ending were parallel to MARGARET PETERSON HADDIX's first book RUNNING Out of Time, published in 1995.

Haddix says she heard about the similarities last week when fans - and then journalists - began calling and emailing her and her publisher to ask if she had sold the book to Shyamalan.

She claims she has never spoken to Shyamalan or to Disney, adding, "It's certainly an interesting situation. I'm just examining what my options are."

A joint statement from Disney and Shyamalan's BLINDING EDGE PICTURES says: "(We) believe these claims to be meritless".

Simon + Schuster spokeswoman TRACY VAN STRAATEN adds, "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."

Shyamalan has previously battled a copyright lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania screenwriter who claimed the plot from his 2002 film SIGNS mirrored his unpublished script LORD OF THE BARRENS.

10/08/2004 21:14