Walden Media finds post-Mouse partner

One month after Disney decided to pull the plug on co-financing the third movie in Walden Media’s “Chronicles of Narnia” series, Walden has found a new partner in 20th Century Fox.

Fox, which was entitled to first crack at “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” after Disney dropped out because of the shared Fox Walden marketing and distribution label, has made a commitment to develop the project. The two sides are still working out budget and script issues, but the hope is to shoot the film at the end of summer for a holiday 2010 release through the Fox Walden label.

Fox 2000 will spearhead development and production matters from the Fox front. Topper Elizabeth Gabler had pursued the “Narnia” franchise but was beaten out by Walden. The Century City studio seems to be an ideal fit for the “Narnia” books given that it’s been looking for a family-friendly, lit-based franchise for years — Fox 2000’s “Eragon” failed to catch on with audiences and died after one installment.

Fox and Walden will split production and P&A costs for “Dawn Treader,” which is projected to go into production at a $140 million budget. That’s considerably less than the $215 million or so spent on last year’s “Prince Caspian,” which was considered something of a box office disappointment as compared with the first “Narnia” pic, 2005’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” ($419 million vs. $745 million worldwide, respectively).

Still, “Caspian,” which is considered the least commercially appealing of the seven C.S. Lewis “Narnia” novels, ranked No. 10 in global box office performance last year. “Dawn Treader” is considered to be a more family film-friendly book, and the goal is to get back to the magical aspects present in the first “Narnia” pic but mostly absent from “Prince Caspian.”

Ultimately, Fox’s commitment to the summer start date is contingent upon Walden’s selection of a writer. Richard LaGravanese penned the most recent draft that both Walden and Fox were happy with, but there’s a question about his availability because he has been adapting Sara Gruen’s bestseller “Water for Elephants” for Fox 2000.

After budget and script concerns are settled, Fox and Walden are expected to greenlight the film. The intention is to move the production away from Mexico, where, ironically, it was going to be shot at the Fox-owned Baja facility called Rosarito used for “Titanic” and “Master and Commander.” “Dawn Treader” will instead likely shoot in Australia because of concerns for the drug violence and kidnappings that are taking place near Baja.

Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley are reprising their roles as Caspian, Edmund and Lucy, respectively. New to the production is Will Poulter (“Son of Rambo”), who will portray Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Pic is being directed by Michael Apted, with Mark Johnson and Andrew Adamson producing.

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