The Lion, The Witch, And The Franchise
Business Week - 11/7/05

The Lion, The Witch, And The Franchise

Disney is counting on Narnia to reel in an audience of kids, gamers, and Christians

The residents of Narnia live in an enchanted land of hope populated with talking bears, dwarfs, and fauns. But in 2001, The Chronicles of Narnia, the much-beloved seven-book series written by British author C.S. Lewis, was a lost cause to Hollywood studio executives.

Even as blockbuster hopefuls like Harry Potter, X-Men, and The Lord of the Rings were coming to life, Paramount Pictures dropped Narnia after five years of false starts and rising budgets. "It was a great project that couldn't seem to get going," recalls David Weil, CEO of Anschutz Film Group, the family-friendly movie unit owned by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz that picked it up from Paramount. Anschutz, a onetime Sunday school teacher, was drawn by Narnia's spiritual underpinnings. Holed-up in New York's Four Seasons Hotel after months of negotiating, Weil made an offer to C.S. Lewis' stepson that he couldn't refuse. "We laid out a 15-year plan to create a franchise out of The Chronicles of Narnia," recalls Weil, "and wouldn't let him out until he agreed."

When The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe hits theaters on Dec. 9, it will represent Hollywood's latest venture -- and one of its most costly yet -- to create a franchise, which is, after all, the celluloid Holy Grail. The stakes are enormous not just for Anschutz but also for Walt Disney Co. (DIS ), the film's distributor, which is paying half its production costs. "It was an expensive bet," says Disney studio Chairman Richard Cook, who was first approached about the project by Anschutz executives two years ago. "But with books that have as many as 90 million readers, it was a bet worth taking."
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