Gary Susman
March 02, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Are you going through Middle-earth withdrawal, knowing that there’ll be no more ”Lord of the Rings” movies? Well, if you can wait ’til the end of 2005, you can turn to another franchise of New Zealand-shot fantasy films based on the best-selling novels of a mid-century Oxford don. This time, it’s ”The Chronicles of Narnia,” the seven best-selling children’s fantasy tales written by J.R.R. Tolkien pal C.S. Lewis. The project’s been in the works since even before ”The Fellowship of the Ring” opened in 2001, but it now has Hollywood backing; according to Variety, Disney has signed on to co-finance and distribute the movies. It’s splitting the costs of the movies with independent family film company Walden Media, Disney’s partner on last year’s hit ”Holes” and this summer’s ”Around the World in 80 Days.”

The first book in the 85 million-selling series, ”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” tells how four English children find a portal in an armoire that leads to the magical land of Narnia, ruled by a talking lion named Aslan who faces an epic battle against the forces of evil, led by the frosty White Witch. Variety reports that Disney and Walden will spend $100 million to film ”Lion” on location in New Zealand and the Czech Republic. Andrew Adamson (”Shrek”) will direct the movie, starting this summer, with an eye toward a Christmas 2005 release date.

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