catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 1 :: 2006.01.13 — 2006.01.26


The Lion, the Witch, and the Disney Corporation

I was amazed how important this story is to me. I first read C. S. Lewis?s Narnia series when I was suffering through a particularly nasty junior high experience, and I found solace in both the struggles of the Pevensie children, but also the moments of calm and safety in the midst of the storm. As I watched the movie, I found myself anticipating the lines, and was amazed to hear them pronounced almost exactly the way I had imagined it. In short, watching Lewis?s stories come to life was almost a perfect experience. Almost.

Oh, right, the story. Well, if you haven?t yet read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you need to go do that now. If you can?t get hold of a copy, then perhaps this unreasonable summary will suffice: four children, evacuated from London to the country, discover an enchanted wardrobe that transports them to the land of Narnia, where three of them, Peter, Susan, and Lucy take arms against the oppressive White Witch. The fourth child, Edmund, betrays his siblings to the White Witch. With help from talking beavers and various other magical creatures, the three children meet Aslan the lion, king of the beasts and Narnia?s analogue for Christ. In order to rescue Edmund, Aslan surrenders himself and the White Witch kills him on the stone table. The deep magic is stronger, though, and Aslan rises from the dead to set things right.

In a way I had never hoped possible, the movie preserves the allegorical message in a remarkably faithful way. The acting is excellent, the computer-generated characters seem very natural, and all in all, the movie does credit to the book. Some timing elements got shifted around a little to increase tension, but I am willing to let that go?it is part and parcel of making the transfer from one medium to another. As I say, overall, (perhaps 90% of the movie) it is an excellent film. If you really want to see it, you might want to stop reading now.

So what is the deal with the ten percent? Well, that would be the part that was not faithful?more specifically, the parts of Lewis? stories that were changed to make the film more marketable.

Problem 1: The beavers have turned into the Bernstein Bears.

In the book, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver have always reminded me of oppressed Christians, showing amazing hospitality in a time of war. In the book, Mr. Beaver brings the children to safety while explaining to them the basic theology of Aslan, and Mrs. Beaver provides them with food, shelter and comforting reassurance that they will be okay. In the book, they clearly love each other and are dedicated servants of Aslan.

In the Disney film, things have changed a bit. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver have apparently been possessed by the boorish father bear and the housecoat-wearing mother bear from the children?s book series, The Bernstein Bears. Mr. Beaver has turned into a stereotypical TV dad. He seems to alternate between hyuck-hyuck-hyuck stupidity and wisecracks that cut down his wife?s appearance and her cooking ability. Mrs. Beaver, rather than being a competent woman in a crisis and a woman who understands the perils of an unsafe world but hopes for the new world under Aslan, has become a stereotypical preening housewife who worries only about her appearance. Rather than being an example of two people drawn to each other in a time when there are few other people they can trust, their marriage is, like so many other comedy marriages, the source of jokes.

Maybe I ought to lighten up, and accept this transformation. It does make the story funnier. The thing that hurts is that that humor comes at the expense of two characters of whom I think as excellent examples of what Christians ought to be like.

Problem 2: the plot has taken a couple of detours, both to increase the action potential and to apparently make for a better video game.

In the film, the safety of the beaver?s house is shattered by the attack of the witch?s wolves; the crossing at the fords of Beruna has now become a faceoff against the same wolves; and the great battle has become a race against time. The first change, the wolf attack on the Beaver lodge, may be necessary to make the film more action packed?but it points out that life in the movie world rarely offers any safety. Safety in dangerous times is an important part of the novel (and one of the comforts of the Christian life?the knowledge that God does look after us).

The second change is spectacular. Peter faces the captain of the wolves and makes a non-violent choice to strike the ice with his sword, giving the children a handle to hold on to when the ice-waterfall behind them collapses. They then go ice-surfing and Lucy seems to drown, but is okay. Even the look of it screams potential video game. The problem with this one is that suspending one?s disbelief in a land of centaurs and talking animals is hard enough. This scene reminds the viewer that it is just an action-adventure movie and though suspense will be high, our heroes will triumph.

The third change continues that theme. In the movie, Aslan?s resurrection is the climax. After that point, the outcome is never in doubt, and though Peter fights well in Aslan?s service, it is the lion who turns the tide of battle. In the film, the timing of the battle is such that things get much more desperate, and it seems at several points that Aslan is dependent upon his human helpers and the outcome of the battle is up for grabs. Good movie plot, bad theology.

I know that seems like a lot of complaining. As I said earlier, I was, on the whole very happy with most of the film. The casting is excellent. Lucy is especially good at conveying her emotions through her facial expressions. The scenes that I had hoped for are there, including the children?s talk with Professor Kirke, the movement through the wardrobe into Narnia, Mr. Tumnus, and Aslan on the stone table. 90 percent of it is near perfect. Overall I?d recommend?but make sure you read (or re-read) the book. The world of the book is still more magical.

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