! Did the Burroughs estate decide? Variety just ran a story saying Disney is optioning the John Carter books… but they add no new information beyond what TMZ reported last week. It’s odd to see no quotes from anyone. Could the trade be stealing stories from the web again?

Some projects never go away. For a while John Carter of Mars, the other famous series of books from Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, was in development with Jon Favreau as the director and Aint It Cool News’ Harry Knowles as one of the producers. That fell apart, though, and Favreau moved on to Iron Man.

Now gossip site TMZ is reporting that the Burroughs estate is about to sell the film rights to the 11-volume series, beginning with A Princess of Mars, to Disney. But is that really the case? Knowing that legendary producer Don Murphy has been involved in the efforts to get this movie to the screen over the last few years, I gave him a call to see what’s what.

I caught Don on location in Vancouver, where he’s on the set of While She Was Out, a Kim Basinger-starring indie thriller he described as “hardcore.” Don happily gave me the inside poop on just where a potential A Princess of Mars movie is at the moment.

The Burroughs estate hasn’t finalized a Disney deal, Murphy says, and he doesn’t see why they necessarily would. Don’s working with Walden Media, the folks behind The Chronicles of Narnia movies, and he says that part of their offer is a guarantee to have a film in production in 18 months. Disney, meanwhile, is making no such offer, and is in fact interested in sitting on the film for Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo. Apparently Stanton wants to do a live action movie, and John Carter is what he fancies… but he’s lined up to do Pixar’s post-post-Ratatouille film, meaning he wouldn’t get started on John Carter, at the earliest, until next decade.

Whoever ends up with John Carter’s rights, we’re going to see a PG/PG-13 version. Don told me that when Fox was interested, they wanted to do a Conan the Barbarian-style R-rated movie, but Walden’s whole mission is about family-friendly fare. Disney, meanwhile, is refocusing on only making blockbusters, and you have a better chance of making John Carter of Mars a blockbuster if you keep it PG or PG-13.

Will we ever see A Princess of Mars on the big screen? My gut tells me that if Disney gets it, and holds it for Stanton, we might not. Who knows whether Stanton will still be interested three or more years from now? This film has languished in development hell for years, and may yet linger there longer.