Though Hollywood is a land of great creative opportunity, it is also one that can eat away at the soul. But, make no mistake, there are people, and companies, determined to enliven the heart, while also respecting the teachings of the Bible. One such multimedia entertainment company is Walden Media. (Actually, Walden Media is located in Boston, but then, there really is no actual Hollywood nucleus; Hollywood is a city of mind.)
Headed by CEO Micheal Flaherty (that's how he spells it), Walden Media has determined to make great films from celebrated literature (THE QUESTION OF GOD; ALIENS OF THE DEEP; THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE; BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE; I AM DAVID; CHARLOTTE'S WEB).
"We want to be the next great trusted brand for families, particularly for teachers, libraries and parents," Flaherty told me years ago. And throughout their ten years of existence, Walden Media has held to that standard.
Still one of my favorites, I AM DAVID was a powerful film adaptation of Anne Holm's internationally acclaimed novel NORTH TO FREEDOM, and while it didn't set box office records, one of Walden's next ventures did. Based on the best-selling children's book by C. S. Lewis, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA concerned four children who discover a magical wardrobe that transports them to a land of talking animals and many a life lesson. It was a parable, a retelling of Christ's love and our need to be his warriors, his ambassadors.
Micheal Flaherty, a brother in Christ, said, "For me, the main themes in the book are family and forgiveness. We made sure those themes were in the film."
In a recent interview, Mr. Flaherty gave us a little teaser of what we might expect from the next installment of the series, NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, opening December 10th. "The part that people love about the book is the transformation the kids go through as Aslan teaches them about grace. You don't see this concept often included in films. And I've never seen a better illustration of it. The kids learn that grace is something that can't be earned, it can only be given."
Feeling a social responsibility, the prolific company will help release an independent film, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, this coming Fall. I had the opportunity to see it and I'm calling the well-produced documentary the most important film of the year.
"We were wanting to do a film on the educational crisis when we heard that John Schriber from Participant Films had already started WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. We had to come aboard. We just had to."
From studio press notes: "Reminding us that education 'statistics' have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, the film follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages academic growth. The documentary undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying 'drop-out factories' and 'academic sinkholes,' methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems."
That may not sound like a film for relieving stress after a hard week, but occasionally a movie comes along that clearly defines a problem that threatens our culture.
What excited this film reviewer was the film's hopeful conclusion. Viewing it, one comes to the conclusion that America can defeat this enemy within. But more of that when WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is released in late September.
First up, the G-rated RAMONA AND BEEZUS, a lightweight kids' comedy aimed at an often ignored demographic – little girls and their daddies. Ramona is a mischievous daydreamer, part American Girl, part Marmaduke, and all fun. But what will excite parents and educators alike is the nature of the two lead characters. The sensitive and inquisitive little girl is faced with the realities of an unjust world (dads can lose their jobs) and manages to meet these challenges with compassion and confidence. Her older sister, Beezus, perpetually annoyed by her sibling's antics, is no less loving of her "pest," well aware that Ramona is something special. They share a bond that only sisters can, and the two young actresses' screen affection comes across as genuine.
Flaherty says of its message, "No problem is so big that love can't overcome it. The father loses his job, the family is afraid they will lose their house. Everything seems to be going wrong, but the family comes together and gets through it."
A singer/actress, Ms. Gomez, who just turned 18, took essentially the supporting role despite the fact she has her own TV series (WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE). When asked why the next Miley Cyrus would do so rather than holding out for a film that further spotlighted her, Flaherty said, "She loved the books. And there's absolutely no ego there."
In an era when schools are prevented from teaching ethics and morality, children's books and films aimed at youngsters are a needed saving grace. And though older sisters may prefer TWILIGHT's Bella, and film buffs more moved by TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD's Scout, R&B is a film that will soulfully entertain an often neglected portion of the movie-going audience – little girls.
Walden Media continues to stress entertainment with values. It has been called a beacon in a very dark land.
Phil Boatwright contributes to Baptist Press and writes about Hollywood for www.previewonline.org.