While several crew and cast members of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were busy downplaying the Christian symbolism in the film, a special "super trailer" was being shown to evangelical Christian leaders at Focus on the Family’s Colorado Springs campus.
Will Disney be able to pull off the balancing act of wooing Christians back to the theaters while not alienating secular audiences?
Disney has a lot riding on the first Narnia film. The studio has yet to find a marketable franchise of movies. They need to chur out a successful non-Pixar film to strengthen their negotiations with the computer animation giant. Many conservative families have been wary of Disney for various reason over the last decade or so. The House of Mouse is hoping to change all that with one visit through the wardrobe.
Disney is so desperate for a hit film, they are marketing to every niche possible. While this may work, increasing profits for Disney and partner Walden Media, it may back fire tanking the film and damaging the viability of both companies.
The full-court appeal to evangelicals may hurt the film’s reach among non-Christians. Many may avoid Narnia for fear of being preached at by a Jesus-lion.
Not only could the strategy push away non-Christians, it may anger Christians. Many evangelicals may enjoy the attention given to them by Disney, but they may bristle at the idea of being used as a profit pawn. If Christians feel Disney is simpy courting them to make a buck, they may pull back their support for the project.
The chances of this happening grow larger everyday with Disney trying to calm the fears of non-Christians by downplaying the spiritual significance of the story. Christians may grow tired of seeing Disney play both sides, riding the fence of proclaiming the movie to be "Christian."
As for my personal opinion, I think Disney is smart to try to tap the evangelical market that made The Passion of the Christ the highest grossing R-rated movie ever. I think they are bold for trying to both play up and play down the Christianity of the film depending on the audience. It has taken a lot of savviness for them to reach this point – with all the buzz and anticipation surrounding the movie.
I think most evangelicals will simply be happy to see the Lewis classic on screen and will understand the studios trying to make as much money as possible by reaching out to every possible ticket-buyer. I also believe most secular audiences will not be afraid of the Christian themes that lay the foundation for Narnia. Some may reject it (and anything remotely connected to Christianity), but most will go for a high-action fantasy movie and not be disappointed.
Deciding to make The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe may not have been a gamble for Disney, but the way they have marketed certainly has been.