Indie family-fare producer inks 1st-look deal

Gotham-based family educational shingle Walden Media is hooking up with the mother of family entertainment, the Walt Disney Co.

Walden, a subsidiary of the Anschutz Co., has inked a two-year, first-look distribution pact with the Mouse House, which gives the year-old shingle immediate distribution for its first two completed projects — kidpic “Holes” and James Cameron’s 3-D underwater exploration adventure “Ghosts of the Abyss.”

Likely even more enticing to the Mouse House is the chance to distribute Walden’s franchise, C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series, though no pact with Disney for those pics has been announced. Walden has already put into active development the first in the seven-book series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Terms of the deal are such that some of the Walden pics Disney chooses not to distribute can be set up elsewhere. Walden already is adapting “Around the World in 80 Days,” to star Jackie Chan, with Paramount.

A source close to the companies suggested the Disney-Walden connection could bear more strategic alliances in the arena of 3-D pics.

Disney will retain the remaining worldwide distribution rights for “Holes,” currently in post-production and slated for release early next year. “Ghosts,” to be distributed by Disney in North America and the U.K., will be released in April. Disney and Walden together want to redefine the scope and accessibility of the 3-D experience by releasing the film in large-screen venues as well as in traditional 35mm theaters.

“We are thrilled to enter an ongoing relationship with Cary (Granat, Walden’s CEO) and his colleagues at Walden,” said Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook. “The philosophy behind the kinds of films they’re choosing to make perfectly complements ours. We already have two great projects under way with Walden, and it’s been a terrific experience. We look forward to working with them in the coming years.”

Nina Jacobson, prexy of the Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, said: “Cary’s always been an innovator and made excellent creative choices throughout his career, and we think he’s continuing on that trend. Walden Media is coming forth with some of the most interesting projects around, and we’re both honored and excited to have them here with us.”

Granat said, “Disney not only possesses unparalleled distribution and marketing muscle but also shares Walden’s desire to inspire curiosity and recapture imagination through film.”

About Walden

Walden was founded by Granat, former president of Miramax Films’ Dimension label, and prexy Micheal Flaherty, an entrepreneur in the education field. Rounding out Walden’s executive management team are chief operating officer John Logigian, former entertainment exec at Jean Doumanian Prods., Miramax Films and Orion Pictures.

Granat had been involved in a lawsuit with Disney-owned Miramax until recently, when the suit was settled amicably.

“Holes,” the screen version of the popular children’s novel by Louis Sachar, was adapted by Sachar and directed by Andrew Davis (“The Fugitive”). Pic stars Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Shia LaBeouf and was produced by Phoenix Pictures’ Mike Medavoy and Chicago Pacific Entertainment’s Andrew Davis, Teresa Tucker-Davies and Lowell Blank.

“Ghosts,” Cameron’s first directing project since his blockbuster “Titanic,” dives 2½ miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic to explore the wreckage of that infamous vessel, offering an intimate journey through the ship led by Cameron and “Titanic” thesp Bill Paxton along with historians and scientists.

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