There are 1,000 tales to tell in the land of Narnia. One is about to be told.
For C.S. Lewis, his pen was his sword. And now that same pen is about to become even mightier.
Walden Media and Walt Disney Pictures have been granted the rights to bring to life one of Lewis' most legendary 20th century writings-"The Chronicles of Narnia." For audiences around the globe-who have cherished his writings no matter young or old-one of seven major tales-"The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe"-is about to be told. For Disney, it is the beginning of a long-term franchise opportunity. Needless to say, both Disney and Walden Media, which have worked together in the past on other films, are pulling out all the "tops."
With Academy Award-winning director Andrew Adamson (of Shrek and Shrek 2 fame) leading the pack, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a live-action and CG animated film, also includes all-stars Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop (Academy Award-winning special effects supervisor for the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and producer Mark Johnson. Adamson terms his direction of the film a "gift," as he is a childhood fan of the book series. In a five-minute teaser viewed by License! for this exclusive story, Adamson reveals, "C.S. Lewis painted a picture and left a lot to your imagination. Our challenge is to fulfill people's expectations and bring the film up to the level of their imaginations." With 85 million copies sold in 29 countries, nearly 6 million copies annually, indeed, reader expectations will be high on a worldwide basis. Producer Johnson believes expectations will be met: "When audiences see this movie, they will have never seen anything like it in their lives."
Walt Disney Pictures believes Adamson, Johnson, Taylor, and the rest of the creative team are up to the task. "We are thrilled to have Andrew Adamson direct The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, as he is uniquely suited to direct one of the most complicated live-action, CG animation films," says Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, in a License! exclusive interview. "Clearly, they [The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe creative team] are major talents in the business today. All have proven they can handle a project of this magnitude."
Into the Wardrobe"Magnitude" is the operative word, as Cook continues, "This is a worldwide franchise and a worldwide phenomenon. With seven books in the series, The Chronicles of Narnia has the characteristics of a long-term program. Judging from the phenomenal success of the Lord of the Rings, while I'd never predict the success of a movie, The Chronicles of Narnia is in that family of great literature. It has transcended generations." In the world of literature, C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien were contemporaries and have been compared and contrasted over the years.
Certainly Disney Consumer Products is looking "long-term." As Chairman of Disney Consumer Products Worldwide Andy Mooney aptly puts it, "it is exciting to look to the horizon." "Projects of the scope of The Chronicles of Narnia are few and far between," reveals Cook. "This is well beyond a single movie."
And, according to Mooney, that's exactly what the retail horizon is looking for. "There's a level of pre-awareness of The Chronicles of Narnia property. Retailers are looking for dependability." What's more, The Chronicles of Narnia is highly merchandisable with its host of characters-from human to mythical to hybrid species and battle scenes, among other fantastical imagery, according to Mooney. "Narnia offers a rich world for merchandising," Mooney claims. So agrees Weta Workshop's Taylor, who reveals, "In Lord of the Rings, we designed 10 different races of characters. Here in Narnia, we have more than 60 different races, 60 different cultures, and 60 different species of creatures." With the film slated for holiday 2005, behind-the-scenes work on the film and casting already was underway at press time, being mainly shot on location in New Zealand, according to Cook.
Interestingly, and of worthy note, Mooney explains that although Disney has been rich in animation, this will be the first live-action film to enter merchandising for the entertainment giant. Mooney confides that Disney missed the merchandising opportunities for Pirates of the Caribbean; it will not miss those for Pirates of the Caribbean; sequels.
Out of the WardrobeWith HarperCollins as worldwide publisher of "The Chronicles of Narnia," opportunity to cross-promote between the books and the movie is a natural, according to Mooney, and HarperCollins already has implemented some marketing tactics and agreed to republish the books to coincide with the first film. Asked what would be the marketing spend for the film, Cook says coyly, "The nature of the biggest marketing spend ever for a film."
As The Chronicles of Narnia has a broad fan base, Mooney reveals the target age groups are "still being defined, and may change over time." He continues, "Historically, the books have skewed more girls than boys. But translating the movie to product with the environments, characters, and the Narnia world, merchandise may skew more boys than girls." Mooney speculates a 60-40 ratio, particularly where toys are concerned as they may have more boy appeal. In addition, he points to an older avid reader fan base, and believes collectibles would be in the merchandise mix. "We are treating this as a long-term franchise, analogous to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars," Mooney asserts. "We would rather have the market be short on product than long on product." At this stage in development, answering pointed questions relating to product is no easy feat, as Mooney and the Disney Consumer Products team are in the beginning phases, and are headed to Licensing 2004 International Show this month to showcase opportunities for The Chronicles of Narnia.
What has been established in the world of merchandising is an interactive game for PC and PS2, which was greenlit in conjunction with the C.S. Lewis Estate and Walden Media. The developer was under wraps at press time.
As it is a worldwide franchise opportunity, Mooney believes The Chronicles of Narnia consumer products will find homes from high end to mass. "Because of the scope and scale of Narnia, we don't have any retail exclusives planned," he says. In the traditional film release and consumer product world, six to eight weeks is the time frame for products on retail shelves before the release of the movie.
But Mooney and the Disney Consumer Products team plan to expand on that "traditionalism" where The Chronicles of Narnia is concerned. He relates, "We are not approaching The Chronicles of Narnia as an 'event,' which delivers product in that six-week cycle before the event. The first release for Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, is an international foray into a substantial franchise." Considering there are seven stories to be told in The Chronicles of Narnia, beyond the books and video/ DVD and other merchandise, there will be the sequels.
Walden Media-50/50 partner with Walt Disney Pictures on The Chronicles of Narnia-which originally brokered the deal with the C.S. Lewis Estate, secured the merchandising and licensing rights to an education project, which includes educational publishing, school workshops, and teacher training. The entertainment company, in its negotiations with the C.S. Lewis Estate, cinched the deal when it outlined its plans for education, and forged a relationship to work closely with the C.S. Lewis Estate on the development phase of the project.
Mooney concurs, "We will be very careful about how we embellish merchandise, whether toys, video games, or board games, and will work in conjunction with the C.S. Lewis Estate. The consumer products are an extension of the movie, but we will work to remain true to "The Chronicles of Narnia" original intent and content."
With The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe slated for holiday '05, timing for the next film in the series has yet to be determined, although License! attempted to pry. Regardless of the next film's timing, Mooney is incredibly optimistic about the overall structure of Disney Consumer Products, which has experienced major successes with Disney Princesses, various library properties such as Winnie the Pooh, and the recent acquisition of Jim Henson's Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House also bring promise.
"The great thing about where we are as a licensing organization is the film business has been tough in the last three to four years. We've only had event-only animation," he says. "The message I'd like to deliver is that we are very much back in the film business. Over the next 18 months, Walt Disney Studios will deliver two more Disney/Pixar films and two significant live-action films." Not to mention the fact that "The Chronicles of Narnia" have been eyed by a variety of studios for more than a decade. He further boasts, "We are different from other studios as we have 365-day branded programs, as well as big event/movie licensing." For certain, Disney Consumer Products' horizon has a whole new wardrobe.