One can just about hear a collective “at last” from the parents of the estimated 2.5 million homeschool students in the United States.

Now, on the heels of its wildly successful “The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and just a few weeks after announcing an outreach in support of family-friendly films, Walden Media is confirming plans for a national education outreach initiative with the homeschool community.

“Walden develops films based on core values, classic literature, and compelling lives,” said company co-founder Michael Flaherty. “Homeschool parents and students are natural partners in this mission because they demand family-friendly, educationally significant entertainment.”

The work is beginning immediately, with special books, websites, radio resources and educational and faith materials being assembled for the coming 2006 Christmas launch of “Charlotte’s Web” and the soon-be-available “Amazing Grace.”

“Homeschooling parents are educationally savvy, highly connected, market leaders when it comes to supporting entertainment that promotes their shared values,” Flaherty said. “They are an educational audience Walden takes seriously. We are establishing the groundwork for two-way communication. As a major film company, we want to give voice to their values as parents.”

Dakota Fanning in ‘Charlotte’s Web’

Flaherty’s announcement said the “Charlotte’s Web” project, developed through the work of Walden, Paramount Pictures, Kerner Entertainment and Nickelodeon Movies, is a live adaptation of E.B. White’s classic for children. And the new effort will complement the existing outreaches already in place for that movie, as well as “Amazing Grace.”

“Charlotte’s Web” is the story of a farmyard pig, whose days appear to be numbered until a miracle happens because of his friends. It’s been rated G and opens in theaters nationwide on Dec. 20, 2006.

“Walden Media’s homeschool outreach program will develop channels of open communication with homeschool gatekeepers, publications, and over 1,500 homeschool websites,” Flaherty’s announcement said. Those will be added onto the grass-roots partnerships with public school teachers and librarians that have been in development since 2001, and have involved “Holes,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” and the blockbuster “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Starting this month, Walden Media is publishing a monthly e-newsletter for homeschoolers called “Ripples on the Pond,” which will provide information about coming productions and local outreach activities. Homeschool leaders will be allowed to participate in pre-screening events and where local interest is high, group showings will be made available.

One highlight of the coming outreaches will be the company’s attempt to break the world reading record December 13 at noon Eastern Standard Time, officials said.

For “Amazing Grace” a special campaign has been launched that is called “The Amazing Change,” officials said.

The centerpiece effort is a social justice outreach that is geared to abolishing modern-day slavery, which to this day continues to be rampant in many parts of the world.

William Wilberforce, opposing the slave trade

That feature, from Samuel Goldwyn Films, Roadside Attractions and Bristol Bay Productions in addition to Walden, is about William Wilberforce, who championed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

“His life was also an astounding spiritual and moral quest, and he is an inspiration to millions to this day,” the Walden announcement said. “Elected to Parliament at age 29, Wilberforce led a diverse coalition of believers in a decades-long struggle to end the lucrative but dehumanizing slave trade.”

He teamed with former slave trader Rev. John Newton, who penned the words of that traditional hymn, and his story tells “of how one man can change the world.” The movie isn’t rated yet and will be released in theaters Feb. 23, 2007.

Walden, which specializes in entertainment from both original and classic literature, in August had announced a joint venture with Twentieth Century Fox to market and release family-friendly films,

“The Chronicles,” which Walden released with Walt Disney Pictures, won an Academy Award for the makers of the film retelling the classic C.S. Lewis children’s fantasy.

Other upcoming releases from Walden are “Bridge to Terabithia,” “The Water Horse,” “Journey 3D,” “and Mr. Majorium’s Wonder Emporium.”

Also in the works is a second film in the Narnia series, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” officials said.


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Previous commentary:

Absolutely thrilling!


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Hollywood’s Narnia unveils trailer

Disney plans ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ film

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