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"The Chronicles of Narnia" - Will Disney Get It Right?

  • Dr. Marc T. Newman AgapePress
  • 2005 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
"The Chronicles of Narnia" -  Will Disney Get It Right?

In a recent interview on Faith Radio, Bob Crittenden asked me what has come to be the defining question on the upcoming film "The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe":  Can Christians trust Disney to faithfully deliver C.S.Lewis' book to the silver screen?

It is not hard to understand the persistence of that question. On the one hand, Christians are intensely protective of "The Chronicle of Narnia" – a beloved series shared by generations of readers. On the other, Disney has a habit of taking famous fairy tales and twisting them into crowd-pleasing films – often by eviscerating them of their original intent or infusing them with modern sensibilities foreign to their creators. One need only read "The Little Mermaid," by Hans Christian Andersen, or look at the tales of "Hercules" or "Tarzan" and compare them with the films to recognize the difference. Few would deny that the Disney brand has a long history of making family-friendly blockbusters, but strict faithfulness to the text has not always been high on their priority list.

Still, I have great hope that the version of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" will ring true to the novel because of the production company behind it, the promises being made, and the sheer folly of getting it wrong.

The Walden Connection

Much is made of the Disney label attached to Narnia. Fortunately, the answer to the "trust" question does not have to rely on Disney, but on the production company, Walden Media. With the exception of "Around the World in Eighty Days" (a fun, but unfaithful romp), Walden Media enjoys, and deserves, its outstanding reputation for its adaptations of children's books.

It is nearly impossible to reproduce a novel on the screen. Some things cannot be imaged – a character's thought processes, for example, are notoriously difficult – and often the complexity of the text overwhelms the 90-120 minute time constraints of the cinema. Nevertheless, if you saw "Because of Winn-Dixie" earlier this year, you witnessed how fully Walden Media can put a book on the screen. Walden wants to make films that cause children to read books – it is their stated aim. If they could not get the story right, their credibility with the target audience of their mission statement – educators – would be at risk. They will do their best to deliver.

Promises, Promises

When I initially became aware of Walden's involvement with the Narnia project, I spoke with Micheal Flaherty, president of Walden Media. He was the first person to assure me that everything I expected from the book would be in the film. Anyone seeing the trailers knows that there will be some deviation, but all of it seems designed to drive the plot forward in a way complementary to the book. For example, I am expecting "Lord of the Rings"-style battles that rage longer than the descriptions Lewis provided – but it is elaboration rather than departure. That first assurance has been followed by many others.

Beginning with a "faith community" event on the Disney lot early in the year, and continuing with the Narnia regional "sneak peek" I attended last week in Atlanta, everyone involved is falling all over themselves to reassure Lewis lovers that this film will be true to the text of the novel. On the Disney lot we were treated to a brief appearance by director Andrew Adamson. No stranger to film fantasy, Adamson clearly knows how to put magic up on the screen – he directed the wildly successful "Shrek" and "Shrek 2." At the Disney event, he recounted his love of the "Chronicles." He appealed to the audience to trust him – that he would never violate a book he cherished in his youth. This is a promise that Adamson has repeated in the "Making Of ..." promotional films found on the Narnia site.

Everyone involved with the making of this movie has done everything short of signing an oath in their own blood that "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" gets it right. The most common phrase being that this book is a "sacred trust." The ultimate seal of approval, however, comes from C.S. Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham. Appearing at the Atlanta event to great applause, Gresham strongly held to the film's authenticity – predicting that had his step-father lived to see this film, that he would have liked it.

The Business of Narnia

Beyond the trust I have toward Walden, and the multitudinous promises from Disney, sits the cold hard fact of the business of Hollywood. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is the first film in what could turn out to be a bigger franchise than "The Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter." Lewis' books have sold in the millions and have legions of followers. The film is in the hands of a fabulous director and no expense has been spared in recreating the world of Narnia. The only thing that could kill this franchise is a coordinated outcry stemming from the belief that the core construct of the film had been left out.

Some writers have claimed in print that Lewis never intended "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" to be a Christian allegory. The apparent purpose of this claim is to blunt the assertion that this is a Christian story. Their claim is true, but not in the way they intend. Lewis did not write an allegory of the Christian faith – he wrote a fictional retelling. In explaining his character, the Great Lion, Aslan, Lewis wrote, "... he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and he chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all." Aslan is not a representative of some abstract Christian idea. Aslan is an image of the reality of Christ.

Until I get a chance to see "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" likely sometime in November, I will trust in the integrity of Walden, and that no one in Hollywood would be willing to risk this kind of talent and treasure making a film that would infuriate its major audience. Disney and Walden have been careful to woo Christians to support the film while hoping that secular audiences come out as well. And why shouldn't they? The pull of the redemptive story has been around a lot longer than Walt. I, for one, can't wait to step into the wardrobe.


Marc T. Newman, PhD (marc@movieministry.com) is the president of MovieMinistry.com -- an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people.

© 2005 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.