Former Disney executive could join Walden Media

Times Staff Writer

Walden Media, the producer of family films backed by billionaire Philip Anschutz, is in discussions to hire former Walt Disney Co. executive Nina Jacobson in a senior post amid a restructuring of the company.

The moves follow a spotty track record for Walden’s films, which, despite the firm’s 2005 blockbuster “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and its ambitions to compete with Disney in family entertainment, have had limited success at the box office.

Jacobson is under contract as a producer for DreamWorks SKG. People close to Anschutz cautioned that an agreement had not been reached and that Walden Media was talking with other candidates about the post.


Jacobson’s Disney experience, which included oversight of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” movie franchises when she headed production at the studio, gives her a strong background in family movies. She did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Cary Granat, chief executive of Walden Media, is expected to stay at the company to shepherd the upcoming “Narnia” sequels, as well as other special projects. Disney is scheduled to release “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” in May.

“We are restructuring, not retrenching,” said David Weil, chief executive of Anschutz Film Group. “I think we can do it better than we have. Sometimes we have done it very well. Other times not as well.”

As part of the restructuring, which includes about a dozen movie division layoffs, Walden’s education division would relocate to Los Angeles from Boston. The division works with libraries and outreach organizations to develop reading programs and book market research.

Anschutz’s goal has been to create a family brand for Walden as distinct as the Disney label. In 2006, Walden entered into an exclusive agreement with Fox Filmed Entertainment for the studio to distribute all of Walden’s films with the exception of the “Narnia” series, which is distributed by Disney. Walden retains marketing control and in some cases shares financing of the films with Fox.

But the movie side of Walden has had mixed results. “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Bridge to Terabithia” performed satisfactorily, but those gains were offset by the dark thriller “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” and so-so showings for the recent fantasy films “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep” and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” Although Walden is likely to score a home run with “Prince Caspian,” people close to the company say executives are nervous about the expensive live-action movie “Journey 3-D,” which will be released in July.


“The thematic thread is sort of missing for Walden’s movies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media by Numbers. “The Walden name is not as ubiquitous as a Pixar or a Disney, but those names took years to develop. If Walden focuses and develops consistently performing films, there is no reason why they can’t create a brand for themselves.”