Before heading into the Christmas holiday, Walt Disney Pictures announced that it will not be co-producing and co-financing the third installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" movie series.
Citing "budgetary considerations and other logistics," Disney pulled out of its partnership with Walden Media, leaving the rights-holder of the Narnia books to scout for a new partner to produce "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which they had planned to release in May 2010.
The latest move casts a cloud of doubt over the third Narnia film, which may cost around $200 million to produce. It has also drawn criticism from fans of the original book series, who blame Disney for the less-than-expected success of the second Narnia film, "Prince Caspian."
"Disney flatly refused to have any pre-screenings of Prince Caspian and would not pursue any special marketing of the film to churches and other Christian markets," observed the C.S. Lewis Society of California. "In direct contrast, for the first film an extensive and highly effective marketing campaign directed by Motive Entertainment (the marketing experts from Passion of the Christ fame) produced an enormous response from Christian movie goers."
In 2005, the first Narnia film, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," raked in $745 million in ticket sales worldwide on a $180 million production budget. The second, however, pulled in only $419 million despite a larger $200 million budget.
"Unlike the first 'Narnia,' which had a holiday release, the sequel came out in the spring, and it was up against superhero summer fare like 'Iron Man' and 'Indiana Jones,'" observed media analyst James Hirsen in a commentary for Newsmax.com. "Disney tried to market it as an action flick, with limited success."
"Disney … presented Prince Caspian as a strictly secular and violent, fantasy/adventure/romance, and the result was all too predictable," the C.S. Lewis Society added in its statement Monday.
The organization also blamed "Prince Caspian" director Andrew Adamson, who they say "refused to embrace the full story and theme of the book," thus leading to a "weak and mangled script."
Without Disney, some predict that Walden Media's new partner will be Fox, which already markets and distributes Walden films using the Fox Walden banner.
Regardless of what happens, however, Walden Media says they remain committed to C.S. Lewis' remaining books.
"We're disappointed that Disney has decided not to go forward," said David Weil, chief executive of Walden's parent company, Anschutz Film Group, according to the Los Angeles Times. "But we regard 'Dawn Treader' as an extremely valuable property and remain committed to the franchise."
Walden said that it hoped to find a new financial partner and proceed with plans to shoot the film in the first quarter of 2009 with director Michael Apted.