Disney, take that Narnia ‘Voyage’
I don’t pretend to understand the vagaries of filmmaking or the pressures of corporate America in an economically challenged year, but I do know a few things about your target audience since, as the credit-card-wielding, annual-Disneyland-pass-holding mother of a 10-, an 8-, and a 2-year-old, I pretty much am she.
I discovered, belatedly, that you’ve decided to pull out of the third part of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” -- you made the announcement on, what, Christmas Eve? -- because of “budget considerations,” leaving Walden Media to find a new studio partner.
And I’m here to tell you, though it is probably too late, that you are crazy.
So, part two, “Prince Caspian,” didn’t make a gazillion dollars. What a surprise. “Prince Caspian” was always the dud, relatively speaking, of the series. For fans who read and reread “The Chronicles of Narnia,” it was the one you could skip. The fact that “Prince Caspian” the movie did as well as it did was a miracle, and a testament to the filmmakers. It certainly did not have the built-in, can’t-wait draw of the first Narnia film, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Or, more important, of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which is, hands down, the best book of the series, the one inevitably most dog-eared or lost entirely from the boxed set because in reading it for the 98th time, you left it in the backyard right before it rained or lent it to your cousin who lives in Virginia. If you don’t believe me, consult the truly excellent BBC audio version and you will find that the narrator for “Dawn Treader” is Derek Jacobi. Derek Jacobi! If those CDs don’t keep you and your kids rapt and silent during the five-hour ride to Yosemite and back, nothing will.
Cinematically, “Dawn Treader” is a no-brainer. It’s a sea voyage, for Pete’s sake. There’s a dragon and missing knights and a wizard and all manner of magic involved. The moral ambiguity of slavery, the deleterious effect of great wealth, the meaning of the afterlife are all dealt with in entertaining and thrilling ways. Aslan barely makes an appearance, so you don’t even need to worry about Liam’s schedule.
Peter and Susan are gone, and in their place is the irritating cousin, Eustace Scrubb, one of the more inspired and believable rotten kids in English literature -- a career maker for some lucky young actor. Imagine the big-screen possibilities of the trip to the Island of Dreams or the battle with the sea serpent. Not to mention all the subsequent merchandising opportunities. Reepicheep is back, in a big way, and if you can’t earn your investment back in Reepicheep plushies and pajamas, then, honestly, you aren’t really trying.
And what happened to momentum? What happened to artistic commitment? Imagine if New Line had decided that, because the critics were lukewarm on “The Two Towers,” it would pull out of “The Return of the King”? (Not that this could have happened, because New Line had the foresight and the guts to put up for all three at once.)
Meanwhile, you put money in “Race to Witch Mountain” and took a pass on “Dawn Treader”? Disney, Disney, now is not the time to lose your heads. In tough times, what are parents going to do -- shell out to renew those park passes or take their kids to another matinee? Now pick up the phone and make nice. Maybe Aslan will relent and let you back into Narnia after all.