Is the film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe faithful to C.S. Lewis' book?
by Greg Shull

Hear what director Andrew Adamson and producer Mark Johnson have to say about that in interviews conducted by family-friendly media on Nov. 19, 2005.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is only Adamson’s third movie to direct, but the first two, Shrek and Shrek 2, were well liked, drawing $268 million and $441 million respectively at the U.S. Box Office. Shrek 2 is No. 3 on the domestic list of top-grossing films.

Mark Johnson’s producer credits include The Alamo, The Notebook, The Rookie, My Dog Skip, A Perfect World, Rain Man and The Natural.

Q: Is the idea that CS Lewis was a Christian and wrote these science fiction books, these fantasy books, as kind of parables, is that kind of important to you? Should people understand that?

Andrew: I think it’s more of an interest in the press than the world at large. C.S. Lewis was a Christian and definitely wrote from a point of his own belief. However, I think — people have called this allegorical — I don’t think of it as allegory, and I don’t think he did. I think he’d be very disappointed because an allegory is somewhat of a limiting thing. I think people have interpreted these books differently over the years. I read the book when I was eight years old before I even knew what the word allegory meant. I think people will continue to interpret it according to their beliefs. I did make a film that I think is very true to the book. And I like to say to people, “Whatever you got from the book, you’ll get from the film. If you enjoyed the book as an adventure, you’ll enjoy the movie is an adventure. If you found spiritual messages in the book, you’ll find those in the movie.” I think the movie is very true to the book.

Q: Talk a little about the pressures that you faced in dealing with Disney, who must have an eye toward producing seven of these films, and C.S. Lewis’ stepson [Doug Gresham] — it seemed like he had a very clear idea of what he wanted out of it. And it seems like you would have been in a very difficult position.

Andrew: Making films is always fifty percent creative and fifty percent political. There’s a lot of people involved in making a film, both on your crew and management-wise and executive-wise. So you always are playing that balance of satisfying a lot of masters. But I was given an awful lot of creative freedom, both by the studio and by Doug [Gresham]. He was a huge cheerleader of the film. He’s been wanting to make this movie for fifteen years, and I think why I ended up doing it is when I sat down and talked to him about how I saw the film, it gelled very much with his image. You know, one of the things that is a beautiful illustration in the book, by example, is a moment where … Aslan’s walking and talking to the witch, and he’s walking around on his hind legs with his hands behind his back. It’s a very emotionally evocative illustration, but at the same time I knew that if I did that with the lion in the film, it would be cartoony. It would be comical. And so I said to Doug very early on, “This is how I want to do it. I want to make the animals real. I want to make this a real situation.” And he just kind of kept nodding along. The only thing that we ever really had to debate was something that I considered slightly sexist in the book. And, you know, it wasn’t at the time. It was written fifty-five years ago, or published fifty-five years ago. There’s a moment where Father Christmas gives the children their gifts, their weapons, and he says to the girls, “I do not intend you to use these cause battles are ugly when women fight.” And I thought that was a very sexist thing and disempowering to women. And I had just done two films that I think were very empowering to young girls. And Doug was a little concerned about was that taking away from C.S. Lewis’ intention. And the way I kind of persuaded him to see it my way is I said, “C.S. Lewis wrote this book before he met your mother. And after he met your mother, there were a lot more strong female characters.” And we came to this kind of compromise, which is that he just gives the weapons and says, “I hope you don’t have to use them cause battles are ugly affairs,” which can apply to males and females alike.

Q: It seemed really important to get somebody like Andrew to direct it because he understands all this stuff, but he’d only done animated films. Was this a stretch for you guys?

Mark: You know, I probably should have said that or I should have been more worried about that, but the truth of the matter is I wasn’t. He and I had a breakfast early on in which he said to me, “I don’t want to make a movie based on the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which made sense to me because I had just read it the day before, and I was amazed at how spare it was. And I said, “What exactly is the movie?” And he said, “What I want to do is make a movie based on my recollection of the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” So the movie he ended up making is sort of a confluence of C.S. Lewis’ words and an eight-year-old boy’s imagination. And I think … being a boy, he remembers the battle very vividly. Then he went back to the book and saw it’s there in a page and a half. It’s hardly there.

Q: Yes, so that kind of stuff you filled in?

Mark: Yes, that’s exactly right. While being very true to the book, it also has a certain amount of invention to it. For those of you who know the book, the book starts with the four kids on their way to the countryside. We started the movie with the bombing of London to do a couple of things. One, just to start the movie with a little bit of a bang, a piece of action, but also to show most importantly kids today what the battle of Britain, what the blitz really was and why these kids were so endangered and disempowered. And also, lastly, thirdly, it also gives Peter the idea of having the griffins drop the rocks on the Ice Queen’s army.

Q: Unmistakably C.S. Lewis was a Christian allegorist.

Mark: Although he claims that The Chronicles of Narnia are not Christian allegories. We know he was a Christian and a Christian writer, so it’s not as though it doesn’t have sort of his beliefs and traits, whatever. All we set out to do was make a movie that was as faithful to the book as possible. And I have so many friends and know about how many loyal readers there are, and they come from everywhere. There are Christians and non-Christians. And if you say, “Well, there’s a character who sacrifices his life and then is reborn,” you can find that character in Star Wars and Matrix or whatever else, so we did not set out to be true to anything other than the novel.

Q: Does it concern you that you have this whole Christian camp out there, and things I’ve read suggest that Disney feels it’s a no-win situation, that they can’t please that audience.

Mark: Those who have seen it say it’s such a nonissue. The movie works very much complete unto itself. And if you want to read certain things into it, they’re certainly there. And if you don’t, you don’t. I really hope that everybody’s going to enjoy the movie. Disney has a grassroots marketing campaign for the so-called faith-based community, but it represents five percent of their marketing budget. So, they’re probably spending more money on Boy Scout organizations and different outreaches to get the young males.