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Monday Mouse Watch : Waiting for the "Dawn"

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Monday Mouse Watch : Waiting for the "Dawn"

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Do you recall that shindig that Walt Disney Studios held at the Kodak Theatre back in September. Where the 26 movies that the Mouse House now has in the works -- among them highly anticipated sequels like "Pirates of the Caribbean 4," "Toy Story 3," "National Treasure 3" and "Tron 2" -- were all heavily hyped.

Did you notice something significant missing from that list? Like -- say -- the third installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" series, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Back in September of 2007, Disney announced that "Narnia III" would be the Studio's big release for May of 2010. But then in August of this year, Mickey suddenly changed his mind. Now "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" would be Disney's big release for May of 2010. And as for "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" ... That project kind of went into stealth mode.

Don't get me wrong. Walt Disney Pictures -- along with its production partner, Walden Media -- is still reportedly moving forward with the third installment of "The Chronicles of Narnia." Director Michael Apted has been riding herd on "Dawn Treader" 's development since June of 2007. Actors have been cast ("Son of Rambow" star Will Poulter has been hired to play Pevensie cousin Eustace Scrubb) and studio space has been lined up (The bulk of this movie will be shot at Baja Studios in Rosarito Beach) for a four-to-five month-long shoot which is allegedly slated to begin in late January.

Which is all well & good. Except that Disney hasn't actually greenlit production of "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Not yet, anyway.

What's the hold-up? Well ... Part of the problem here is that "Prince Caspian" didn't do nearly as well as Disney & Walden had hoped it would this past Summer. This $200 million follow-up to the studio's 2005 blockbuster, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" only earned $141.6 million during its initial domestic release. Which is less than half of what the first "Narnia" movie earned during its stateside release back in December of 2005.

Given that many of the suits at the Studio thought that "Prince Caspian" was a far stronger film than "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Disney CEO Bob Iger blamed this movie's under-performance on there being "too many movies ... in the marketplace." That -- due to the surprising strength of "Iron Man," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and the other summer blockbusters that crowded in around "Prince Caspian" -- this "Narnia" sequel wound up coming up short at the box office.

Copyright 1994 HarperCollins. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, given that foreign ticket sales for the second installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" series also showed the same sort of drop-off (i.e. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" earned $453.3 million during its initial overseas run, while "Prince Caspian" stalled out after only earning $278.0 million), there are other theories now being floated at the Studio to explain away "PC" 's perceived under-performance. Chief among these being that many moviegoers worldwide -- having seen the first "Narnia" movie and found it wanting -- weren't all that eager to see a "Narnia" sequel. Which is why only half of the "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" 's audience turned out to see "Prince Caspian."

That said, Disney & Walden Media still expect to make a tidy profit off of "Narnia II," particularly when the DVD & Blu-ray versions of "Prince Caspian" go on sale next month. Given that over 11 million units of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" have been purchased since this disc first went on sale back in April of 2006 ... Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is hoping that "Prince Caspian" sells just as well.

But given that the second installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" series cost $200 million to make and an additional $65 million to market ... It's going to take "Prince Caspian" quite a bit longer than "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to officially turn a profit.

Which is why -- given that Disney & Walden Media execs are concerned that "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" may earn even less than "Prince Caspian" did -- strict cost control measures have now been put into place on the third installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" film series.

This is why the original plans to shoot "Dawn Treader" on location in Malta, Iceland and Prague have been dropped. Now two-thirds of this film will be shot in Mexico in the huge water tank that James Cameron used while he was shooting "Titanic."

As for "Dawn Treader" 's budget ... From what Disney insiders have been telling me, that's part of the reason that the third installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" film series didn't actually start shooting last month as had been previously announced. Walden Media reportedly wants Disney to go halfsies on a $140 million production. But given that Disney is contractually obligated to cover the costs of all prints & advertising on the "Narnia" movies ... Well, Disney's supposedly pushing for a $100 million version of "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" instead.

And as for "Dawn Treader" 's release date ... Having learned " ... a good lesson," Iger is now allegedly pushing for the third installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" film series to be released during the same time that was "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was. Which now translates to December 2010 (Which was when "Rapunzel" was originally supposed to be released. But given that that animated feature's directors were recently replaced, it's now looking far more likely that this Walt Disney Animation Studios production will be released sometime in calendar 2011).

Now as to the question of Disney & Walden Media producing any more "Narnia" movies after "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" ... Look, as recently as August of 2007, Disney officials were still gung-ho about the idea of producing film versions of all seven of C.S. Lewis' fantasy novels. With "Prince Caspian" hitting theaters in May of 2008, and then each subsequent "Narnia" movie debuting in May until this film series officially wrapped up with the release of "The Last Battle" in May of 2013.

Then -- just one month later -- Disney backed off on this idea, saying that " ... in consideration of the challenging schedules for our young actors, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media have chosen to delay the start of production for 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' until Summer 2008."

Truth be told, there has never really been a very strong consensus about how and when the further installments of "The Chronicles of Narnia" film series should be shot. Bob Beltz of Walden Media once spoke of a fast paced shooting schedule for "Prince Caspian," "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "The Silver Chair."

Copyright 2002 HarperTrophy. All Rights Reserved

But now ... Well, as "Narnia" producer Mark Johnson put it during his appearance at this year's New York Comic Con: "Right now, we have no plans to go beyond 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.' If (that movie is) successful, I'd love to do 'The Silver Chair' after that."

To be blunt, Johnson put the onus back on the "Narnia" audience. Saying that " ... as long as you keep embracing these movies, we'll make all seven." With the unsaid part of this statement being "If you guys don't turn out in sufficient number for 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' in 2010, the series stops there."

Which -- from what some Mouse House insiders tell me -- would suit Disney just fine. Why For? ... Well, certain members of the current Mouse House management team view the "Chronicles of Narnia" as an Eisner legacy. A holdover from the bad old days when Michael -- back when he was battling with Roy over the whole "Save Disney" movement and seemingly on the brink of letting Pixar slip away -- needed some sort of good news to share with Disney stockholders.

Which is why -- given that the Mouse House (at that time, anyway) lacked its own hugely popular movie series like "Harry Potter" and/or "Lord of the Rings" -- Eisner was eager to get into bed with Phil Anschutz's Walden Media in order to make "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." With the hope that this pricey production might then be the springboard to a whole new film franchise.

But that was 2004. And this is 2008, with Michael Eisner gone and Pixar now a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. And given that Mickey now has a hugely popular film franchise of his very own (i.e. the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies) ... Pushing ahead with production of all seven of the "Narnia" movies didsn't seem like such a smart move anymore. Particularly if "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" winds up earning less than "Prince Caspian" did this past summer.

So if you're a "Chronicles of Narnia" fan who really wants to see Disney go ahead with production of all five of the remaining C.S. Lewis fantasy books ... My advice to you is -- on December 2nd, when the DVD version of "Prince Caspian" officially goes on sale -- buy both the single disc and the 3-disc collector's edition of this movie.

You see, Disney's reportedly waiting for the numbers on that first week of "Prince Caspian" DVD sales before it then locks in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" 's production budget. And the more money that that "Narnia" disc makes ... Well, the better "Dawn Treader" will wind up looking. Which hopefully will have some sort of impact on the third installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" 's chances of box office success.

Your thoughts?

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  • As a huge fan of the books, I am very pleased with the quality of the first two Narnia films.

    With that said, I think Disney needs to reevaluate their approach to the series.  Prince Caspian should not have cost $200 million to make.  Although it's definitely high fantasy, the series is far more contemporary than sagas like The Lord of the Rings.  It doesn't need to be nearly as elaborate or as expensive to make.

    Dawn Treader also shouldn't require as nearly as large of a budget as Caspian.  If they stick to the novel and don't go overboard, it should only need a fraction of the effects shots.  I'm actually glad they're sticking to a tank stage because I think it would do just as good of a job as filming it on location at a fraction of the cost.

    I'm excited for Dawn Treader.  It's probably my favorite Narnia novel and it's definitely the most unconventional of the seven, as it's purely about exploration and self-discovery.  To me, it's the book that really helps set the series apart from other fantasy series.

  • Iger really hit the nail on the head.  There was too much competition this summer for Prince Caspian to make a dent.  If it had come out this fall we wouldn't be talking like this.

  • I agree with Tuckenie, our family of five voted to pass on Narnia this Summer, and we ended up seeing Iron Man, Dark Knight, Indy, and Wall-E in theaters and agreed to buy Narnia on DVD. There were so many other blockbusters this Summer that Narnia just fell though the cracks and really didn't hold my kid's interest compared to the others, even though they have all seen the first several times, and one has read the entire series. Maybe the first one did turn them off to the rest!  

  • Maybe I'm in the minority here (or not, considering how poorly Caspian did), but I thought "Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe" was horribly mediocre. The book really isn't that long, so they had to pad the film with a lot of unnecessary scenes. And let's face it: The children are terrible actors.

    Eisner wanted his own Harry Potter, not realizing that the reason the Harry Potter franchise has survived for six films now is because they've had great screenwriters, directors and an amazing cast. It's difficult to clone that kind of success. Disney should end it with Caspian, or at least consider a television mini-series to continue the story.

  • "Eisner wanted his own Harry Potter, not realizing that the reason the Harry Potter franchise has survived for six films now is because they've had great screenwriters, directors and an amazing cast."

    The Potter films are successful because they're able to ride on the wave of the Harry Potter phenomenon.  The Narnia books have been out half a century and don't have the same convenience.  I love the Potter books (well, the first four) and I think the movies are dreadful.  I find the Narnia films to be far closer in spirit to their source material, even if they take liberties with it.  The Potter films suck all of the charm out of the novels.

    I definitely agree that Disney totally screwed up the release of Caspian.  Granted, I don't think anyone expected Iron Man to be nearly as successful as it was, but you don't mess with a good thing.  LWW did gangbusters in December, so why on earth would you move it to May?  I'm glad to hear that Iger wants to move Treader back to December because it would be insane to keep it in May.

  • People I have talked to enjoyed both movies. They agree that there were alot of good movie out when Capian came out. I, however, think that a big difference was repeatability. I loved LWW. It was very close to the book and captured NArnia wondefully. Caspian strayed too far from the source material. I know they had to add stuff but I felt like they changed too much. That is why I think alot of people that loved LWW and went to see it a number of times saw Caspian but did not go back again and again like they did for the first movie.

  • Imagine if it came out three years from LWW. What's in it's way? Bolt and Twilight would've had two weeks to run their course, albeit Disney didn't know this a year ago. It would open against the reboot of Punisher and have nothing in its way until The Tale of Despereaux, which wouldn't have posed much of a threat. It would've been just fine.

  • Chalk me up to another who feels it was the timing that ruined the release of 'Caspian".  The Narnia stories, with their clear religious tones, dovetale perfectly into the Christmas season.  It would've been much stronger then.  The added level of competition this Summer just made a bad idea worse.

    I don't think it was bad word-of-mouth on the first film that hurt it.  It seems to me most fans of the books and kids and families in the target demographic loved the film.  I certainly did and while I like the books, I'm no huge fan.  I just watched LWW again the other day.  Right after I watched the film, I *had* to watch it again with the cast/director commentary and then *again* with the directer/crew commentary.  A great film.

  • Well, frankly, I thought "Prince Caspian" was pretty bad. Some nitwit at Diz decided to leave out all the fun, magic and celebration that so enlivens the book, and threw in a bunch of bloody battles instead. As a result, the film is a pretty dark affair, and actually comes off as the one thing many Narnia fans feared the Narnia films would be turned into - a pale imitation of "The Lord of The Rings". And I greatly disliked the way the characters were handled. Reepicheep the Mouse, in particular, was poorly translated from the book. His valiant and flambouyant personality was eschewed in favor of lame short and mouse jokes. It was painfully obvious to me that the people in charge of the film didn't understand or appreciate the book, which is why they decided to change so much of it for the cinematic version. After seeing the film once, I had no desire to see it again - as opposed to my reaction to "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", which certainly had its flaws, yet had just enough of Lewis' vision in it to be enjoyable. I fear for "Dawn Treader". It helps that it has a different director, but I still don't feel easy about it...

  • I cannot wait for the new Lord of the Rings films.

    But, as with Indy 4, I'm probably going to be disappointed.  Good on Disney for trying something new, please don't slash the budget though.  We will be able to tell!

    ie.  lots and lots of Lucasesque blue / green screen is what I fear

  • What I found telling about Prince Caspian was that the brief scene with the White Witch overshadowed the supposed main villain. I think you can still get the audience going with a Rathbone-style villain, but that was not the case here.

    Timing-wise, I think Holiday Season 08's original slate was a factor in Caspian coming out in summer. It would've been up against Potter 6, which was only rescheduled about a month ago. It will be interesting to see if Twilight ends up as the upcoming fantasy franchise it's being positioned as.

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