"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" will have to sail without Disney.
While declining to elaborate, Disney and Walden Media confirmed Tuesday that for budgetary and logistical reasons the Burbank-based studio is not exercising its option to co-produce and co-finance the next "Narnia" movie with Walden.
The third entry in the series, based on the classic books by C.S. Lewis, was in preproduction and set for a spring shoot for a planned May 2010 release. The development puts the participation of the talent attached in doubt. Michael Apted was on board to direct a script by Steven Knight. The key players of the second installment, "Prince Caspian" -- Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell -- were to return for the third film.
Walden has a strong relationship with the Lewis estate and will shop "Treader" in hopes of finding a new partner. The most likely candidate at this stage is Fox, which markets and distributes Walden fare under the Fox Walden banner.
Any partnership on a "Narnia" movie will require a substantial investment. "Caspian," which filmed in the Czech Republic, Mexico and New Zealand, cost $200 million. The first film, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," was shot mostly in New Zealand for $180 million.
It is rare for a studio to pull out of a planned trilogy in midstream, but the number-crunching showed a franchise on a downward trend. "Lion" roared to $292 million domestically and another $453 million internationally in 2005. This year, "Prince Caspian" grossed a healthy $141 million in North America and another $278 million internationally, but that was well off the "Lion" take.
Further challenging "Treader" may be a waning of the pricey children's fantasy genre. When the "Harry Potter" series topped the book charts and then filled movie theaters, studios began snapping up fantasy manuscripts as quickly as they could. When "The Lord of the Rings" showed it was possible for adults to enjoy the fare as well -- and produced the boxoffice results to prove it -- Hollywood's fascination with the genre intensified.
But no other fantasy adventure films have shown that kind of boxoffice punch. Earlier this year, Warners and New Line hoped they were launching a franchise with "The Golden Compass," but the adaptation of the Philip Pullman trilogy tanked domestically.
The film grossed just $70 million domestically and the co-production partners declined to go forward with a second installment despite the fact the film did take in more than $300 million overseas.
I will be more than a little heartbroken if this movie doesn't get made.