Disney announced today that it will not continue filming the Chronicles of Narnia series, prematurely snuffing an enormous franchise that the studio had clearly positioned as its Harry Potter. Here's why we're not surprised.
Eventually, the Narnia franchise was always going to present something of a challenge to put on film. Though it contains seven books, just like Potter, it's hard to imagine that Disney would ever bankroll a $200 million production of a novel as flimsy as The Horse and His Boy. And though we would have loved to see the studio deal with some of the crazy situations served up in the series' apocalyptic final book (like the premise that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's dear, sweet Susan can't get into Heaven because she committed the cardinal sin of wearing lipstick and is thus no longer a "friend of Narnia"), we suppose we'll just have to stave off those hopes unless Fox picks the franchise up and guides it to its moralizing conclusion.
Still, it should have been clear this was coming: Disney had long ago readied Michael Apted to begin pre-production on Steven Knight's adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the series's third book), then remained conspicuously quiet on the matter after the first sequel, Prince Caspian, performed below expectations. Here's the thing, though: the fizzling of Prince Caspian was all Disney's fault.
One of the perils of adapting the Narnia series is that the four original, much-loved children from Wardrobe don't stick around for many further installments. However, they still remain in Caspian — so why didn't Disney choose to advertise that fact instead of putting franchise newcomer Ben Barnes (as Caspian) front and center in its advertising campaign (left)? With the trailers' high emphasis on action, CG battles, and a generic hero and villain, it came off as Eragon 2 instead of the continuation of a family franchise.
Disney also erred in its choice of release date for Caspian. The original, religion-tinged Wardrobe cleaned up in a Christmas-adjacent December slot where it eventually grossed almost five times its opening weekend figure—a practically unheard-of multiplier for such an enormous film. However, Disney tossed Caspian to the wolves in its summer slot this year: no religious holidays, an unusually family-friendly slate of competition that wedged it right in between Iron Man and Indy, and a brutal landscape of screen turnover that allowed it little chance of retaining its multiplier (even the leggy Iron Man only grossed triple its opening weekend). Perhaps Disney was rushing the film, or perhaps they were afraid of going up against the Harry Potter sequel that was originally scheduled for this winter, but it's hard to argue that the studio wouldn't have found more success with Caspian right now.
Good job screwing up a good thing, Disney. Now we'll never get to see that hot centaur spinoff featuring James McAvoy!