Disney bails out of ‘Narnia’ franchise

Studio won't co-finance third pic with Walden

Disney’s decision to pull the plug on co-financing the third movie in Walden Media’s “Chronicles of Narnia” series has left the future of the fantasy franchise in jeopardy.

“We are no longer going forward with the movie due to budgetary considerations and other logistics,” a Disney spokeswoman said over the weekend, though she declined to offer specifics on the studio’s decision to sever its ties with Walden on what was once envisioned as a seven-part series.

Execs from Walden didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Disney’s move comes on the heels of disappointing worldwide box office for the second “Narnia” pic, “Prince Caspian.” “Caspian,” released in May, grossed $419 million worldwide compared with a haul of $745 million for the first “Narnia” pic, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” in 2005.

Disney, like other studios, is looking to be selective about its big-budget bets amid the economic downturn. However, Disney’s move is surprising given that Walden had trimmed the budget of the next “Narnia” pic, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” considerably. The film was set to be made on a budget in the $100 million-$150 million range — far less than the $200 million-plus that “Prince Caspian” reportedly cost.

Michael Apted was attached to direct “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which was scheduled to lense in early 2009.

News comes on the heels of a series of misfortunes suffered by Walden in 2008. A number of executives ankled the company within the past year, including co-founder Cary Granat, who made a surprise exit last month. And the once ballyhooed joint venture Fox Walden has been almost entirely shuttered, having been absorbed by 20th Century Fox’s marketing division.

Walden was co-founded by billionaire financier Phil Anschutz with a mandate to produce three to five educational family films per year. But the company, which endured the high-profile flop “City of Ember” this year, has reduced its output and has only two films set for release in 2009: the high school-set music pic “Bandslam” and the Dwayne Johnson starrer “Tooth Fairy.”

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