The Chronicles Of Walt Disney
Saturday, April 2, 2005
In a marriage of modern mythmakers, Walt Disney Co. is marketing a film based on C.S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia." And in doing so, Disney will take a page from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," based on Lewis's novel for children full of Christian allegory, will be released in December.
For Disney, the Christian marketing campaign represents a sharp break with corporate policy. Apart from Walt Disney World's annual Nights of Joy concerts, the film is the company's first undertaking with the religious community. For some evangelical leaders, it represents the effective end of their Disney boycott.
The entertainment giant, which bills itself as a "Magic Kingdom," has carefully avoided religion for most of its history. Yet Disney has launched a 10-month campaign aimed at evangelical Christians to build support for "Narnia," a $100 million, live-action and computer-generated animation feature it is co-producing with Walden Media.
Disney has hired several Christian marketing groups to handle the film, including Motive Marketing, which ran the historic grass-roots efforts for "The Passion." That film has grossed $611 million worldwide and is now in rerelease.
"From a marketing point of view, it could be a marriage made in heaven -- if the movie is any good," said Adele Reinhartz, professor of religion at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
Armand Nicholi, who for decades has taught a Harvard University seminar on C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, agrees. The entertainment world realizes there's a big audience "that embraces a spiritual worldview," he said. How well these groups interact "will determine how successful this marriage is."
Paul Lauer, founder of Motive Marketing, declined to comment on his campaign for "Narnia," apart from confirming that his company is handling it.
"Disney, as the consummate corporate animal, is looking at Paul as the guy who delivered the audience of 'The Passion,' " said Barbara Nicolosi of Act One, a program designed to bring Christian writers and executives into the entertainment industry.
Another Christian company, Grace Hill Media, has also been hired, and several groups have joined the marketing effort. For instance, the Christian Web site www.hollywoodjesus.com launched a special feature on its site recently devoted to "The Chronicles of Narnia."
In the series, published in the 1950s, a lion named Aslan is a Christlike figure who offers himself as a sacrifice to save another character. He is tortured and killed and then resurrected to transform Narnia into a heaven on earth.
There is some skepticism about how Lewis, who is beloved by Christians for his religious commitment and his influential collection of essays, "Mere Christianity," will be treated in popular culture.