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FIRST-PERSON: Producer brings Narnia to the cineplex

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Christians tend to think of Hollywood as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah inhabited by the living dead. Indeed, evidence would indicate that the Sodom and Gomorrah part is pretty accurate. But its citizenry consists of all kinds, including those who desire to create family friendly films and those who even proclaim a relationship with the Almighty.

One such man is Micheal Flaherty, who, along with college friend Cary Granat, formed Walden Media (“Because of Winn Dixie”; “I Am David”) six years ago. Their purpose was to make great films from celebrated literature.

(Actually, Walden Media is located in Boston, but then, there really is no Hollywood nucleus. The populous of the entertainment community resides throughout the world.)

Forming the film production company was a challenge, one not taken lightly by the company’s founders.

“We want to be the next great trusted brand for families, particularly for teachers, libraries and parents,” Flaherty says. “And we have to deliver on our mission to use the film and the book to make learning more exciting for kids.”

The Walden Media CEOs now face their greatest challenge and very likely their most rewarding contribution to the film world — the making of “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

Based on the best-selling children’s book by C.S. Lewis, the story concerns four children who discover a magical wardrobe that transports them into the realm of Narnia, a land inhabited by talking animals and many a life lesson. There, the children join forces with the courageous lion, Aslan, to defeat the evil forces of the White Witch.

“We go to a lot of teacher conferences, library conferences, curriculum conferences,” Flaherty says. “That’s an opportunity for us to ask teachers and librarians what books their students are reading. And what books they want to see made into movies. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has always been at the top of the list.”

A step up from most children’s fables, the book and the film are full of Christian analogies and symbolism. What’s more, many churchgoers find that the story serves to open a dialogue between parent and child concerning the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.

Asked if this religious kinship raised eyebrows at Disney, Flaherty says, “No, no one ever separated out themes or characters from the book anytime we had a discussion about it. Everyone embraced it as a great story.”

With Disney embracing the Christian philosophy of C. S. Lewis, surely that means a filmmatic makeover.

“Well first, the film is the book, pure and simple,” Flaherty says. “So any themes in the book are there in the film. For me, the main themes are family and forgiveness. Those are the two great themes. I especially pay attention to them now that I have three children. What’s unbelievable is the friendships between the brothers and sisters in the story. And of course, the theme of forgiveness is beautifully incorporated.”

“There are a couple of educational guides on the site (Waldon.com) that parents can work on with their kids. Basically, it details how we brought the book to life. It also goes into some history behind The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and its author.”

If Wardrobe fits moviegoers, will Walden Media embrace other projects by the author?

“I’d love to,” Flaherty said. “One of our first projects was The Question of God, a documentary that examines the religious debate between Sigmund Freud, a life-long critic of religion, and C.S. Lewis, who became America’s most influential proponent of faith based on reason. Screwtape Letters is one of my favorite books and Mere Christianity was one of the most influential books in my life.”
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe opens in theaters Dec. 9.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright