Thinking-caps on, folks.
If you troll for film gossip at all, or if your a fan of classic literature, or both; you're no doubt aware that among the big holiday releases this year will be a big-budget Disney-funded adaptation of C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The With & The Wardrobe." And if you've been following news about that then you probably have heard THIS making the rounds on the web:
Titled: "Disney sets out to make 'The Passion' for kids," the article is one of many expressing surprise at Disney's until-recent under-the-radar courting of religious-oriented public relations firms, specifically "Motive Marketing," to help them target Christian audiences for the film in hopes of grabbing some Mel Gibson-style "I never go to movies but I'll go to this" moolah. Now, described in those terms, one can see why people would be worried: With "Passion," we already have ONE regressive-fundamentalist propaganda film in theaters, and we certainly don't need another to say nothing of one aimed at children.
But that's not what's going on here, thats not what Disney is making, thats not what "Narnia" is all about nor was it what C.S. Lewis was all about.
Now, while "Narnia" (the franchise that spun out of "Lion..." and that Disney hopes spins out of this movie) isn't quite "Harry Potter for fundamentalists," the fact that it's definately a Christian allegory is undeniable. Lewis was a Christian theologian, (one of the most elqoquent writers on the subject ever,) and the story goes that he was motivated to write "The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe" (from here on to be known as TLTWATW) after concluding that the younger children who could most benefit from the central messages of the Christ story were also the most likely to be turned-off by the dullness associated with it's telling and the brutal violence associated with it's climax. Thusly, he concocted an allegorical fairytale in which the same beats and messages play out in a more whimsical setting of magical beings and talking animals.
For those unfamiliar with the TLTWATW, in brief: Three children are transported to a fairytale kingdom called Narnia. Created and maintained by a faraway Emperor (read: God), Narnia has slipped into permanent Winter under the tyranny of a Witch (read: Satan) who believes her job as the Emporer's chief executioner (read: "steward of Hell") gives her the right to rule the kingdom. She is opposed by the Emperor's chief emissary, a great talking lion named Aslan (read: Jesus), who makes a grand gesture of self-sacrifice (read: Crucifixtion) that leads to a newly-powerful rebirth for both him and Narnia itself. Get the picture?
In the world of Fantasy literature, Lewis' "Narnia" books exist the lone example of open detente' between the genre's traditional-religious and new-age opposing sides; a sort of printed-page demilitarized zone fixed somewhere between "Left Behind" and "The DaVinci Code." It's possible to read them as a work of Christian evangelism in spite of all the mythological creatures and magic going on, and equally possible to read them as a work of mythic fantasy for children in spite of the Christian symbolism.
Now, as far as Motive Marketing is concerned... Yeah, it's healthy to be scared about the idea of "The Passion" causing a spreading-infection of religiousity in American filmmaking, but this isn't any evidence of that. Whats going on here is "niche marketing," and it happens all the time. There are specialized P.R. firms that make HUGE profits by helping studios to market aspects of their films to certain communities or minority groups. Happens all the time. There are people you can call, if your selling a new release, who'll help you "get the Latino audience to show up" or "appeal to the gay community." Groups like Motive just do the same thing for audiences who self-identify as Christian.
In other words, whats happening here is that Disney has a movie which they think has an appeal to be mined with America's Christian community, and their hiring people to show them how to best do it. That's all.
(It is worth noting, though, that the Religious allegory gets progressively more blatant as the books go on, and it'll be interesting to see how Disney plans to address this if they do indeed get their franchise going.)
Believe me, folks. There are very few people you'll meet who are more immediately distrustful of anything connected to organized religion than me. But I've been following the development of this film closely, and I honestly don't see anything to worry about here. As much as I'm sure the fundie-propaganda machine will try and make it out to be, this isn't "The Passion," and thank God for that :)
P.S. The best reporting on the making of this film, which is looking really spectacular just for the record, is being done HERE: