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Disney's 'Narnia': Christ Need Not Apply

Thursday, 08 December 2005 12:00 AM

Disney's holiday season release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is set for this weekend -– and some Christians are worried the media giant is more intent on cashing in on the faithful, rather than sharing the film's Christian message.

The Disney backed film is based on one of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" books. Lewis was a noted Christian apologist, and his Narnia books have been viewed as religious allegory about the life of Christ.

While Disney clearly hopes to tap into the same audience that made Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" a huge box office hit, the same people behind the firm version of "Narnia" are vocal in downplaying its supposed links to Christianity.

"Faith is in the eye of the beholder," declared one of the movie's actresses, Tilda Swinton, who said Lewis' original book is more "spiritual" than religious.

"You can make a religious allegory out of anything if that's what you're interested in," she told BBC News.

The $150 million film, made by Walden Media and distributed by Disney, is the story of a struggle between good and evil in the snowy kingdom of Narnia. Four English siblings enter the enchanted land and discover talking animals who await the return of the lion king, Aslan. The inhabitants believe he will free them from the tyranny of Jadis, the White Witch.

Aslan sacrifices himself to save the life of a human boy, or "Son of Adam." He later rises from the dead to lead his troops in a battle against the witch's forces.

But the film's director, Andrew Adamson, also has pooh-poohed the idea that the allegory reveals Christ's resurrection, saying that concept is a common theme in the fantasy genre.

"The religious aspect is something the press is more interested in than the world at large," he told the BBC.

Said "Narnia's" producer, Mark Johnson: "When I read the book as a child, I accepted it as a pure adventure story. It never occurred to me Aslan was anything more than a great lion" rather than a Christ figure.

"Christian themes were very important to C.S. Lewis and imbued everything he did, but he himself denied any religious implications."

Despite those comments from the movie's creators, the film has already received pledges of support from evangelical groups in the United States, many of whom say Lewis – who wrote seven books in the "Narnia" series – did create the story as an allegory about the life of Jesus.

Reportedly, elementary schoolchildren and teenagers in Bible study groups are booking theaters to see the PG-rated movie, which opens Friday.

"We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film," said Lon Allison, director of Illinois' Billy Graham Center.

But a Hollywood insider who has dealt with Disney's marketing executives told NewsMax that the media giant has had great apprehension promoting the film to Christian groups and has done so only in a low-key manner.

"Disney is loathing the idea that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or a preacher like Jerry Falwell will actively promote the film. They want the Christian community's money, but not their viewpoint," the source said.

Last year, Hollywood witnessed the Christian zeal for Gibson's "Passion" movie, which has grossed anywhere from $400 million to more than $600 million worldwide, depending on the source.

The producers of "Narnia" have generated advance buzz among Christians by showing previews to Christian leaders, preachers and evangelical organization, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

USA Today asked: "Is the world created by C.S. Lewis a rip-roaring piece of fantasy – or a fairy tale suffused with Christian imagery?

"The answer is both, and that raises a related question: Can Disney succeed by selling the movie on two tracks – as a sort of cross between ‘The Lord of the Rings' and ‘The Passion of the Christ'? If so, ‘Narnia' figures to be a holiday blockbuster."

Said producer Johnson: "We're not selling the movie to any particular group. With a movie this size, we're trying to sell it to everybody."

Put another way, Disney would like to sell "Narnia" minus Christ – but still have Christians pay the bill.

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Disney's holiday season release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is set for this weekend -- and some Christians are worried the media giant is more intent on cashing in on the faithful, rather than sharing the film's Christian...
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