Fans outraged that a sequel to a beloved holiday film is in the works are no longer out in the cold.
A spokeswoman for Paramount Pictures, which owns the rights to "It's a Wonderful Life," said Wednesday that the studio would fight a group of producers who are working on a follow-up to the 1946 holiday classic. Directed by Frank Capra, the film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a desperate family man who imagines during Christmastime what his town would be like if he'd never been born.
"No project relating to 'It's a Wonderful Life' can proceed without a license from Paramount," the studio noted in a statement after Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions announced their sequel plans Monday. "To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights."
The Internet collectively groaned this week when Bob Farnsworth, president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Hummingbird Productions, and Allen J. Schwalb, president of Orlando, Fla.-based Star Partners, unveiled their pitch for "It's a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story," a follow-up that would focus on Bailey's unlikeable grandson.
"This can't be real," many tweeted.
"Maybe George Bailey should have killed himself after all," wrote one blogger.
Soon celebrities were chiming in:
"I don't know if they have a title yet, but if not, I have a suggestion. I would call it 'It's a Terrible Idea,'" joked Jimmy Kimmel.
"Stop messing with classics, people! What's next? 'Gone with the Wind 2'?" pondered Andy Cohen.
Farnsworth and Schwalb said the film would star Karolyn Grimes, who played Bailey's daughter in the original film, as an angel who comes to the aid of her nephew. They also said they were in talks with other surviving cast members to return. The producers estimated it would cost between $25 and $32 million, far less than many Hollywood remakes and sequels.
Apparently, Farnsworth and Schwalb, who did not return messages seeking comment for this story, forgot one important detail: They didn't ask the film's owner for legal permission. Farnsworth previously told The Hollywood Reporter trade publication that the rights to "It's a Wonderful Life" were in the public domain.
While a lapsed copyright led TV stations in the 1970s through early 1990s to repeatedly broadcast the film, Paramount has controlled the rights for the past 14 years, after it acquired Republic Pictures as part of its purchase of Spelling Entertainment in 1999. Paramount has since licensed the film to NBC, which airs it sparingly during the holidays.
Farnsworth and Schwalb not only lacked the blessing of Paramount — and fans everywhere — their proposed idea for a sequel also isn't supported by the family of Frank Capra, who died in 1991.
Capra's son, Tom Capra, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the family hadn't been contacted by Farnsworth and Schwalb about the sequel, a project they believe their father would have never approved.
"If he was still alive, he would have called it ludicrous," said Capra. "Then, I think we would have called his lawyer. Why would you even attempt to make a sequel to such a classic film?"
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang .