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Whether it likes it or not, Hollywood is undergoing a 'C' change.

Watching this spring's Oscar broadcast was a more depressingly surreal experience than usual. Few of the films up for the more prestigious awards--The Aviator, Kinsey, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Vera Drake--had done particularly good business at the box office. And who could blame audiences for staying away in the millions when presented with such a hopeless smorgasbord of derangement and despair as was encapsulated in some of these movies. Respectively, 2004's critical favourites were about a millionaire who goes nuts, a perverted and dishonest sex researcher, a crippled female boxer who persuades her coach to euthanize her, two louts on a prenuptial bender of fornication and drinking, and a saintly abortionist who gets sent to jail.

The unreality of this year's Oscar ceremony was only increased when you remembered what wasn't considered worthy of a single award. I allude to a certain enormously popular and powerful movie that was only in the running for three lesser, technical awards; none of them bigger than original soundtrack, and none of which it won. The film in question was a completely independent production which no studio would touch that went on to reap the third biggest box office receipts of 2004. Such popular acceptance is even more boggling when you consider that this movie was filmed entirely in dead languages and came with subtitles--usually a surefire mass audience repellent that banishes a film to the secondary art house circuit.

Not only did this film open "wide," as they say, in theatres all around the world, it further defied the laws of film distribution by opening mid-week, on Ash Wednesday to be precise. Catholic screenwriter and cultural critic Barbara Nicolosi, on her Church of the Masses website, cited Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ as "the most courageous directorial achievement since Citizen Kane." And she invoked the metaphor of the elephant in the room that everybody's agreed not to acknowledge--"we'll give awards to any film but the one about Jesus!"--to explain such a craven critical snub by Gibson's movie-making peers.

However, just because the gloomy Hollywood glitterati defensively refused to acknowledge the seismic shift that Gibson's film has affected, that doesn't mean that the rules in movie-land haven't suddenly and completely changed. Right under the noses of the usual movers and shakers, there has been a major "C" change. Once again, it's okay to make movies that will appeal to Christians. No surer sign of this shift is imaginable than the announcement this spring that the ever Zeitgeist-savvy Walt Disney studios are deliberately courting the enormous and long-ignored Christian market as they prepare to release this Christmas the first installment in their series of movies based on The Chronicles of Narnia.

It was first learned in 2001 that Disney would be adapting and producing this series, based on the seven linked fantasy novels--The Magician's Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy," Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; and The Last Battle--by the 20th century's most influential Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Upon hearing of Disney's involvement, a lot of fans were worried that the studio would water down or completely delete its central and animating Christian themes of modesty, charity, sacrifice and redemption. After all, that was the same year when an alarming interdepartmental memo came to light from Lewis' longtime publishers, Harper/Collins. Eager to top up Narnia's already stellar sales of 70 million copies by hopping on board the Harry Potter bandwagon, some Harper/Collins editors were plotting a de-Christianizing purge of the series and hoped to get new writers to pen further Christ-free installments. This despicable plan was thankfully deep-sixed when news of the memo set off wide and universal outrage.

Culturally, a lot has changed over the last four years and, impressed by Gibson's 2004 coup, Disney has been hosting early screenings of their first Narnia film--The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe--with church groups to get their feedback. Disney has also hired the very same Christian PR group that Gibson used for The Passion, Motive Marketing, to handle the series' promotion.

However, old habits dying hard, I still worry. Disney studios have always been relentless, tacky, tie-in marketers. Picture books, calendars, soundtrack albums? That kind of gear would be fair enough, I suppose. If they must. But Narnia video games or plastic drinking cups and figurines of Aslan the lion with every order of a fast food meal? Against all probability, I hope they can resist cheapening the franchise in this way.

In the past, Disney has also tended to buy the rights to certain books and then run the whole thing as if it were their very own intellectual property, completely suppressing any acknowledgement of the story's originator. This has most notoriously been the case with their awful adaptations of the Winnie the Pooh stories. A lot of kids today couldn't tell you that Winnie the Pooh was originally the brainchild of another early 20m-century writer, A.A. Milne (1882-1956). In this regard I hope they take a couple of cues from the producers of the hugely popular Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, which were always promoted as being based on the Christian fantasy novels of Lewis' good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973). Such acknowledgement is only right and will sit very well with that newly discovered audience Disney is hoping to capture.

Herman Goodden is a full-time journalist. he writes from London, Ontario
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Author:Goodden, Herman
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:913
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