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In the picture: Tim Minchin is to direct an animated Australian musical comedy. Photo: Angela Wylie

Tim Minchin - not a performer known to play safe - has signed on for what may be his most ambitious project yet.

The 38-year-old English-born and Perth-raised Minchin will be directing an animated musical comedy set in the Australian outback for Dreamworks.

A big fan of old-style Disney animated musicals - ''films like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, I love them'' - Minchin was bemoaning the fact no one was making that sort of thing any more over coffee with Will Davies, one of the writers of How To Train Your Dragon.

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The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Matilda. Photo: Manuel Harlan

''And he said, 'Well you should just get Dreamworks to do a deal with you','' Minchin said. ''I had no idea what that meant at the time - now I know the studios do deals all the time, give you a bit of money to keep you close.''

For four years, he was on the Dreamworks drip, being handed movie screenplays that might or might not lend themselves to adaptation as animated musicals.

''And just when that term was running out and I was thinking, 'Oh well, it will happen one day,' they handed me this script.''

The screenplay, Larrikins, was by Australian writer Harry Cripps, who wrote the 2000 adaptation of Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding and the 2005 TV series Supernova . It clicked.

''There's this bilby who finds an egg that's been dropped and … it's a bit Star Wars, a bit Gods Must be Crazy, a big road journey,'' Minchin explains in an excited rush.

So the hero's a bit of a Bilby Baggins, then? ''Bilby Baggins, exactly,'' he says. ''Harry's a huge Star Wars and Tolkien nerd. I love it. It's really funny and cheeky and Australian, without being parochially, nationalistically Australian.''

Together, Cripps and Minchin pulled the story apart and reworked it with songs. Dreamworks liked what they heard. ''They started going, 'Holy shit, let's get a producer on this,''' Minchin said. ''Then they started saying, 'Why don't you direct this?' and I was like, 'You're f---ing joking'. And then I realised they were serious.''

All the characters are animals, but this being an outback story there will be a significant indigenous flavour. ''It's incredibly important to me how we depict Aboriginal Australia,'' he said. ''We want to bathe the thing in traditional indigenous music, and the sort of new indigenous folky Gurrumul stuff. I'm listening to a lot of that, but you can't just exploit their stories, you can't exploit their music, without asking. So we've got to do all that.''

A couple of weeks ago he had a script reading - ''with Jacki Weaver, Patrick Brammall, Ewan Leslie, Rebel Wilson, all my mates'' - and Dreamworks thought it ''great fun''.

''And now we're starting to draw pictures,'' he says.

Minchin wrote his first score at 17, and wrote another five or six as a student at the University of Western Australia, and later at WAAPA. Then along came the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda, which he co-wrote for the Royal Shakespeare Company and on Broadway.

It has won four Tony Awards and has just played its 1000th show in London's West End.