Walden, Granat option C.S. Lewis series

NEW YORK — An unlikely upstart is looking to join Warner Bros. and New Line in the pricey world of literary fantasy-turned-movie franchise.

Anschutz subsidiary Walden Media, the nascent Gotham-based multimedia shingle run by former Dimension Films prexy Cary Granat, has optioned the film and ancillary rights to British author C.S. Lewis’ popular children’s book series “The Chronicles of Narnia” from the C.S. Lewis Co. for an unspecified sum.

HarperCollins retains publishing rights to the collection and had no involvement in the film pact.

Walden plans to develop the collection into a live-action theatrical franchise and has begun development on 1950’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the best known novel in the seven-part series.

Walden will partner with the C.S. Lewis Co. to develop the film, which will be overseen by Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis, and Walden Media’s exec VP of film and television, Joel Stillerman, and VP of production and development, Perry Moore.

Option lapsed

The “Narnia” collection had been under option to Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall’s Kennedy/Marshall Co. until late November, when the shingle allowed the option to lapse and the rights reverted back to the C.S. Lewis Co. Kennedy Marshall had been developing the films at Paramount until 1995, when they moved their pact to Disney. They continued to develop the film at the Mouse House. Reps for Kennedy/Marshall were unavailable for comment.

“We have been relentlessly pursuing this project since the formation of Walden Media in May,” said Granat, who hopes to bring the first installment to theaters by mid-2004. “We were very fortunate in that the C.S. Lewis Co. saw eye-to-eye with us on exactly how to make this film.”

Such writers as Menno Meyjes and writing team Kiri Zooper and Chris Barbour adapted “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” while it was set up at Paramount. John Boorman and Rob Minkoff were among helmers attached to direct the pic.

Granat said no decisions regarding cast or crew have been made. Walden plans on meeting with distributors within the next several months.

‘Lion’ tale

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” tells the story of siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, who step through a magic wardrobe into the fantasy world of Narnia, which has been frozen into winter by the evil White Witch. Other books in the series are “The Magician’s Nephew,” “The Horse and His Boy,” “Prince Caspian,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Silver Chair” and “The Last Battle.” Lewis, a classics professor at Oxford and Cambridge, died in November 1963.

Miramax Films currently is suing Granat for breach of an employment agreement.

Walden was launched in May by Granat, prexy Micheal Flaherty and billionaire investor Philip Anschutz with the mandate of “marrying popular entertainment and education.” Other projects in development at the company include period actioner “Rebels,” a co-production with producer Casey Silver to be directed by David L. Cunningham; “Ghosts of the Abyss,” a large-format 45-minute doc to be helmed by James Cameron; and “Holes,” a co-production with Phoenix Pictures, directed by Andrew Davis.

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