This post originally appeared on BMA on October 30, 2005. As a sidenote, this is probably my favorite blog post I’ve ever written. If you would like to read all the posts in the BMA series, click here.
His company, Motive Marketing, has been tabbed to organize and execute a faith-based marketing intiative for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He performed a similar role for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, orchestrating a church-based marketing campaign that helped make The Passion one of the highest grossing movies of all time.
For Narnia, he will perform a similar role, again reaching out to churches and designing ways for pastors to incorporate the Christian themes of Narnia into their teachings. Embracing churches was so successful for The Passion that many pastors actively encouraged their churches to see the movie as soon as it came out, creating enormous pre-release hype for the film. Disney hopes for a similar buzz leading up to the release of Narnia.
Lauer’s job should be even easier for Narnia, since the story behind C.S. Lewis’ classic is geared more toward children, meaning it will appeal to the entire family. But while Lauer’s task should be easier, the line between too much and not enough emphasis on Narnia’s Christian themes will be harder to navigate for Disney when marketing the film to the public.
With The Passion, the religious meanings were obvious. However, Narnia can either be presented as a straightforward fairy tale, or as a story inspired by the teachings of the Bible. “Many people put churchgoers and Hollywood on the opposite sides of the equation,” said Lauer. “But churchgoers are hungry for movies reflecting strong values — like ‘Narnia.”
Churchgoers, however, won’t be the only people seeing Narnia. And the question for Disney is will they risk alienating churchgoers by not emphasizing the Christian themes of Narnia, or would they offend the public by embracing the Christian symbolism of the story?
And it’s a huge gamble for Disney, as they have so much riding on the success of Narnia. With the studio in desperate need of a hit release, a solid showing for Narnia would also open the doors for a movie franchise that could rival that of the Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. It’s an opportunity that Disney is fully aware of.
“Everyone has his own take on the book, to which the movie is faithful,” said Disney’s VP of Publicity, Dennis Rice. “Rather than embracing any interpretation, we’re remaining neutral, adopting the Switzerland approach.”
Disney has also enlisted the aid of Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham, to make sure the film is faithful to his stepfather’s vision of Narnia.
“We never set out to make a ‘Christian’ movie,” said Gresham. “The book taps different veins in different people. If we overstressed what little symbolism there is, we would have thrown away the project.”
Which seems to be the correct path for Disney to take in promoting The Chronicles of Narnia. In writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis’(a devout Christian) was wise enough to put the spiritual undertones of the story in plain sight, yet never forced them on the reader. Wisely, Disney seems to be taking the same approach in bringing Aslan and the White Witch to the big screen.
“This is a huge roll of the dice … ,” said “Narnia” producer Mark Johnson. “But the payoff could be enormous.”