G Whiz

From left,
From left, "Holes" director-producer Andrew Davis, actor Henry Winkler and Walden Media's Cary Granat at the film's 2003 premiere. Such family-friendly fare is the company's niche; Walden became a major player after the $744 million worldwide take of "Chronicles of Narnia." (By Lucy Nicholson -- Getty Images)
By Vince Bzdek
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 29, 2006

As head of Dimension Films in the late 1990s, Cary Granat was the wunderkind of teen slasher comedies, midwifing the sex- and gore-laden "Scream" and "Scary Movie" trilogies into hundred-million-dollar franchises by the time he was 32.

Then, toward the end of the decade, Granat and his wife birthed three future moviegoers of their own. It was a kind of Saul on Sunset Boulevard moment for the young producer. He began asking himself if he really wanted his children to see the kind of movies he was making.

For years he and his Hollywood peers had deliberately aimed raunchy R-rated and PG-13 films at increasingly younger kids. "What used to be defined as 'teenage' -- 13 to 18 -- all of a sudden became 12 to 18, and all of a sudden that became 11, then 10, then 9, and then these types of genre films were being seen by 8-year-old kids," he admits.

By the end of the '90s, "we were looking at this generation of kids who were growing up in a very cynical environment," he says. "They were being robbed of their imaginations."

Granat decided to do something about it.

The result is a family-friendly juggernaut, Walden Media, created on the back of a napkin in 2000 at the wedding of Granat's college roommate turned partner, Micheal Flaherty, and bankrolled by conservative Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Walden, a unique combination of film studio, book publisher and educational outreach company, just released the G-rated "Charlotte's Web" remake in partnership with Paramount. It's the latest in a string of moderately to very successful family films the company has produced or co-produced in its six-year history, including "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "Holes," "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "How to Eat Fried Worms."

Granat's epiphany has paid off handsomely. "Narnia" has grossed more than $744 million worldwide since its release last year and has made the small production company a major Hollywood player. Other studios have taken note, showing a renewed interest in "faith and family" fare and expanding their G and PG offerings, though such films still account for a small minority of all movies made.

More titles suitable for youngsters were released in 2006 than in many previous years, says John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. Many did well at the box office, and their makers' clout is growing.

"The reason? Family movies sell a lot of tickets, many DVDs and merchandise," he says.

The numbers are convincing: In 2004, for the first time in 20 years, G and PG movies made more money than R-rated films, according to Fithian's group.

Twelve out of the 18 significant family movies released in 2006 will make more than $50 million at the box office.

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