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Music legend Elton John, right, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty smile before speaking at a press conference at Starz animation studio in Toronto on Tuesday. ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press))

The crew at Starz Animation Toronto had a brush with celebrity and received a financial boost Tuesday, with new collaborator Elton John dropping in for a visit and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty pledging an investment of $23 million to the growing company.

"Starz is helping make Ontario a hotbed of innovation," McGuinty said during a gathering at the 3D animation house for the funding announcement.

"It's amazing what's possible when you get the ingredients right," said David Steinberg, who is head of the Starz Toronto studio, a veteran animation producer and artist as well as a children's author.

"This is a recipe, truly, for something great and we've only just begun."

Starz Toronto, which the international parent company opened in 2007, has been adding major movie, TV and advertising projects to its growing list of credits — including being enlisted by John and partner David Furnish to animate their forthcoming Miramax film Gnomeo & Juliet.

Based on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, the animated movie will tell the story of a love affair that blooms amidst two duelling garden gnome families. According to reports, James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are to voice the title characters.

"This film ... it's been around for a long, long time. We've seen it die. We 've seen it come alive again," John told reporters.

When he and the Toronto-born Furnish finally got the green light to hire an animation studio, John said they were "overwhelmingly blown away by the facility at Starz here. It was a no-brainer to come here to do this."

Echoing McGuinty by describing Canada as a "hotbed of talent," John added that he thinks Tuesday's $23 million in funding — earmarked for expanding the Toronto studio and creating new jobs — will help draw back Canadian animation talents who have had to leave the country to find work.

"It's great to see something so positive," he said, quipping that given the British economy, Ontario could very well see a flood of workers coming over from England.

The hit singer, composer and producer also said he hopes to be able to return to Canada more regularly.

"Canada is very connected to what I'm doing at the moment," he said, pointing out other projects like his collaborations with Alberta Ballet's Jean Grand-Maître and with Elvis Costello for the CTV chat-and-performance series Spectacle.

With files from The Canadian Press