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May 03, 2005

Narnia movie a minefield for Disney

The Life section in today's USA Today has this lengthy article (lengthy for USA Today anyway) on the new Narnia movie which Disney studios hopes will be the first of a seven-film franchise. The first trailer for the movie will air Saturday night during ABC's showing of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and a longer trailer will be attached to this summer's most highly-anticipated film: Revenge of the Sith. The film itself won't arrive in theaters until December.

I'm looking forward to seeing the film, but it will be interesting to see if Disney can avoid all the pitfalls that accompany bringing a book like this to the screen. Consider this:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an enormously popular book: Until HarperCollins got the US Publication rights, LWW was considered the first book in the series (it was the first Narnia book that Lewis wrote, and really should be read first even though HarperCollins numbers it second), and as such, it's the book most people will have read if they read any of the series at all. Fans of the book will want to see a film version that's faithful to the story. Even minor detractions will cause an uproar from some quarters.

The story is a parallel of the death and resurrection of Christ: C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last century. His books are read, reread, quoted, excerpted, and passed along almost like religious tracts by many Christians, and Christians -- who already have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood -- will want to make doubly sure that a film version of one of the best-loved novels in Christendom remains faithful to its message of sacrifice and redemption. If the film downplays or dilutes the Christian message in any way, count on an outcry.

Actually, count on an outcry anyway, because no matter how faithful the film version is, some people won't be happy unless there's an altar call at the end. And other people will reject it because a) it's a fantasy, b) it's got a witch in it, and c) the Christ figure isn't Jesus himself.

Disney has been repeatedly targeted by some Christian and pro-family organizations: In recent years, Disney's managed to alienate the very audience it seeks, so this is a big risk for Disney. If they don't do it right, they will only be confirming for some Christians how seemingly out of touch they are.

The first trailers will be telling. A positive reaction from Narnia fans will likely result in an overall positive feeling toward the filim as the release date approaches. Negative reaction will dog the film until December.

I'm hoping Disney manages to pull it off, if only because I want to see film versions of the later books in the series. But I'm already wondering how Disney will handle "The Last Battle," which is essentially the Narnian "Revelation" with all that end of the world heaven and hell stuff. If the Narnian worship of Aslan is Lewis's parallel to Christianity, what will Disney do with the Arab-like Calormenes who appear in later books, and whose religion is Lewis's parallel to Islam?

In spite of the changes to the source material, Tolkien fans were so pleased with the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that their initial outcry turned to fevered anticipation for the next two films. But because the Narnia series has such strong religious symbolism, Disney's going to be walking a minefield with each release.

Posted by Drew at May 3, 2005 01:52 PM

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Tracked on May 4, 2005 11:45 AM


I don't expect Disney to pull this one off. Disney can't even get a normal story right (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.), let alone one with deep Christian themes.

If Disney producers screws this one up like I think they will, it will be the last nail in the coffin for Christian viewership.

Posted by: SilverBubble at May 3, 2005 06:07 PM

If they get this one right, you should be able to expect that they may be able to pull of the whole series, but I guess they could mess it all up somewhere along the way.

I agree that if they abandon the Christian message then they will have lost the audience that is already very skeptical of Disney. Let's just sit back and see how in tune Disney really is to its potential audience.

Posted by: Ryan Scott at May 4, 2005 05:36 AM