I'll be forever grateful to my parents, authors both, for teaching me to read. Not how to read, just to read. In a simpler time, before the Internet, before the electronic video games, before cable, before iPods, this was not the challenge it is today. We lived in the country with rabbit-eared television sets with access to less than a handful of stations, half of which crackled with snow, and it really didn't matter anyway because we were allowed only two hours' viewing per week -- so we read.
Hollywood is in the business of entertainment. It has befuddled me forever why this industry, which in a bygone era registered extraordinary financial success simply by putting great literature on the silver screen, all but abandoned that formula in the past 40 to 50 years in favor of, well, junk. I'm looking at today's movie listings in my nearby multiplex: "Norbit," "Hannibal Rising," "The Messengers," "Epic Movie" and "Daddy's Little Girl." If any of these are books, they would be the kinds of books the Bozell children were not allowed to read.
Then along came Walden Media in 2000, and in seven short years this new studio has taken Hollywood by storm with its commitment to retelling great literature, especially the most popular and well-loved children's literature. The visionary behind Walden is business tycoon Philip Anschutz. A deeply private man, Anschutz hasn't given a press interview in 30 years, but you just have to like how he summed up before a Christian school audience in 2004 his decision to enter the gates of Hollywood: "I decided to stop cursing the darkness." Rather than complaining how Hollywood isn't making good movies, he decided to make them himself.
As Walden President Mike Flaherty points out, "We have a paradoxical mission statement, which is to use films to get kids reading." While many parents think movies and television are replacing the printed word, Walden is employing the delight of visual media to create delight in great stories between bound covers.
Walden is most serious about this task. The studio is in contact with more than 100,000 teachers and librarians every year, always looking for what Flaherty calls "the canon of literature that everybody has read." C.S. Lewis, meet Hollywood. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," the first of the Narnia series, was a blockbuster success, grossing over $750 million, and two sequels now are in production. "Charlotte's Web" was another commercial success. The newest Walden movie, "The Bridge to Terabithia," won the Newbery Medal as the best children's book of 1977.
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