The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe almost began in California, not England. The Pevensie children were almost sent to the professor’s house because of an earthquake, or because Edmund stole a compact disc and not because of the air raids during the Second World War. And the White Witch almost gave Edmund a cheeseburger and fries, not Turkish delight.
It’s been a long and bumpy ride to the big screen for C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s book. The story has been dramatized a few times before, but always for television. The most notable productions to date have been a 1979 cartoon produced by Bill Melendez, director of the Charlie Brown cartoons, and a 1988 live-action version produced by the BBC.
In the 1990s, Paramount Pictures bought the film rights and hired several writers and directors to develop a script. But these drafts made many proposed changes to the story, and Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’s stepson and an executor of his estate, publicly expressed his misgivings on the internet. Eventually, the film rights expired and reverted to Lewis’s estate, which was then determined not to go through that ordeal again.
Until December 2001, when Walden Media — a brand new film production company that specializes in adaptations of popular children’s books, especially those with an educational purpose — announced it had acquired the film rights to The Chronicles of Narnia, and would give Gresham an active role in the film’s development.This announcement came between the release of the first Harry Potter movie and the first installment in The Lord of the Rings. Both films proved there was an audience eager to see faithful adaptations of British fantasy novels.
Narnia also went into development at a time when Hollywood was becoming increasingly aware of, and sensitive to, the religious audience. Following the huge success of The Passion of the Christ, Disney — which signed on to distribute Narnia — has begun courting the Church audience specifically.
Walden Media is financed by Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz. In addition to its critically lauded adaptations of such children’s books as Holes and Because of Winn-Dixie, Walden Media is now developing Amazing Grace, a biopic about abolitionist William Wilberforce.
An eclectic array of creative talent signed up for The Chronicles of Narnia. Like The Lord of the Rings, the film was shot in New Zealand, and many of the props and effects were provided by Weta Workshop, which won numerous awards for its work on Tolkien’s story.
The film is directed by Andrew Adamson, making his live-action debut after co-directing the two Shrek cartoons. The script was written by Emmy-award winners Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
As the film nears its December 9 release date, Gresham is satisfied with the results, saying the film marks the fulfillment of a decades-long dream.
“I’ve been dreaming and scheming to make this film for the better part of 30 years,” he said in an e-mail to ChristianCurrent, “I think Jack would appreciate this. I also think he would love the fact that this film is visually, as well as emotionally, very beautiful.”
— A version of this article was first published in ChristianCurrent.