With their very next movie, however, they almost blew it. Around the World in 80 Days, starring Jackie Chan, was a pricey, quasi-faithful 2004 take on the Jules Verne book that flopped with audiences and critics. But Walden regrouped and rebounded, first with Winn-Dixie, then another Cameron 3-D IMAX opus, Aliens of the Deep, and finally Narnia, a franchise property the company had targeted and pursued since its earliest days. With Narnia and Walden's overt courting of the same Christian audience that made The Passion of the Christ a box office phenomenon came the chatter that Walden was a means for fulfilling Anschutz's Christian agenda. ''We've never had a conversation about religion with him. Period,'' says David Weil, chief executive officer for the Anschutz Film Group. ''We all come from different religious backgrounds here. We all believe in a family values approach to positive messages but religious orientation doesn't factor into it.''
Filmmakers who work for Walden say the company is surprisingly and refreshingly hands-off. ''They are not very keen on fart jokes, dirty words, and unintelligent, cheap solutions. Fortunately, neither am I,'' says Rugrats co-creator Gabor Csupo, who's currently directing Walden's adaptation of Katherine Paterson's trip-into-fantasyland Bridge to Terabithia. If there's another big no-no on Walden's morals compass, it's cynicism. In Journey to the Center of the Earth, Verne's novel has been refashioned into a father-son bonding story, in which Dad becomes convinced that Verne's book is an actual guidebook into the earth's core and he's right. ''One of the main reasons I left Dimension was because we were making cynical films,'' says Granat. ''That's why those films worked, because they really hit that chord. Walden is the opposite.''
Looking to the future, Walden execs want to shore up control of the company's destiny. They recently inked a deal with Penguin Young Readers Group, through which they intend to develop future movie properties. (The upcoming Natalie Portman-Dustin Hoffman starrer Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, for example, will first reach the audience in a series of brand-establishing children's books.) Moreover, Walden is likely to begin distributing its own movies by the end of the decade, as opposed to its current practice of releasing its product through other studios. ''Like everything, we're going through the education process now, talking with our audience on how they would want to see that done differently,'' says Granat. ''But the answer is yes, you'll see us take that next step.''
At the moment, Granat is content with the moves he's already made. His family too is very happy with his life change. ''My wife is really proud of me, and so is my daughter,'' says Granat. ''I have no problem with her seeing the films I make now. She even sits with me and watches dailies. Her notes are very good.''
Back to 'Narnia'
From the very beginning, Walden execs saw the seven-book series Chronicles of Narnia as the cornerstone upon which to build their company. Here are Walden's plans for bringing the rest of the franchise to the screen: