Fox, Anschutz team on family fare

After a dalliance with Disney, Walden Media is tying the knot with Fox.

In a sweeping deal that will result in all future Walden projects being distributed through Fox channels, Phil Anschutz’s Walden Media and News Corp.’s Fox Filmed Entertainment announced Tuesday that they are launching a joint venture specializing in marketing family films.

Deal will cover all projects Walden produces going forward except those already set up at other studios, such as “Charlotte’s Web” at Paramount and “The Chronicles of Narnia” sequels at Walt Disney.

Anschutz launched Walden in 2001 and early on, it had a first-look production pact with Disney. That deal expired, and the shingle has since worked with nearly all of the other major studios, though it continued to do more business at Disney than anywhere else. Walden scored its biggest success at the Mouse last year with co-production “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which grossed $744 million worldwide. Disney will release the next pic from C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series, “Prince Caspian,” in 2008.

The name of the new Fox-Walden venture, as well as who will oversee it, has yet to be determined.

In addition to Walden, the Anschutz Film Group’s other company, Bristol Bay Prods., has inked a first-look production pact with Fox as part of the deal.

The new label will handle only marketing. Fox will distribute all titles the new company markets, while production and development staff will continue to be housed at Walden Media. Fox also is expected to contribute some titles from its own development slate for the venture.

Both Walden and Fox will have the option to contribute production financing to the venture’s pics.

The new venture will not hire any production and development staff — the present team at Walden will remain in place — but it will hire a squad of marketing, publicity and promotions execs to sell the primarily G- and PG-rated pics Walden produces. Fox also is expected to use the new venture to market some of the films it produces.

The first pic to be handled by the new Fox-Walden entity will be “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” a Mandate Pictures co-production written and directed by Zach Helm. Pic stars Dustin Hoffman as a 243-year-old eccentric who owns the strangest, most fantastic, wonderful toy store in the world. Pic also stars Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman.

Next pics to be released by the new Fox-Walden venture are “The Dark Is Rising,” the feature adaptation of Susan Cooper’s series about a boy whose everyday life is turned upside down when he learns he is the last of the “Old Ones,” a group of immortal warriors who have dedicated their lives to fighting the forces of the dark, which Marc Platt is producing; and “City of Ember,” based on Jeanne DuPrau’s novel about two adolescents who unravel a mystery in order to keep their city from being plunged into darkness. Gil Kenan (“Monster House”) is directing the pic, which is being produced by Playtone Prods.

The new Fox-Walden venture adds to the list of Fox’s expanding list of film suppliers under the Fox Filmed Entertainment umbrella, which include 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, Fox 2000, Fox Animation and the recently launched Fox Atomic. Fox also is an equity partner with New Regency.

Fox toppers Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman said in a joint statement: “G- and PG-rated pictures make up 10% of films released, but they dominate the marketplace with almost 30% of the gross. It’s a great business to be in — and this venture is a great fit between our two companies.”

In their own statement, AFG chief David Weil and Walden head Cary Granat said, “Walden and Fox each have a unique vision and voice that fit together very well, and through this venture we have the opportunity to develop new paradigms for the marketing of family films.”

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