Can the Lion Save the Mouse?

In Aesop's famous fable The Lion and the Mouse it is the mouse who saves the lion, setting the bound lion free.

“Now you know that is it possible for even a mouse to benefit a lion,” says the mouse.

This Christmas, however, the tables may be turned. More than likely, the lion (Aslan) will be benefiting the mouse (Mickey).

Hollywood and Walt Disney have had a tough go of it as late. Motion picture companies have had one of the most dismal box-office slumps in years. According to Variety, grosses have been between 6%-10% less than last year, and the theater chains are hurting from fewer moviegoers. Disney's studio entertainment division showed a 15% decrease in revenues through the third quarter of 2005.

Come Dec. 9, C.S. Lewis’ Aslan the lion could change all that.

In what the studio hopes, and many Christian moviegoers predict will be the box-office success of the year, Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will open on the big screen.

Marketing companies such as Motive Entertainment and Outreach Inc. have been hired by Disney and Walden Media to promote the film specifically to leaders of faith. Their hope is that they can re-create the grassroots “buzz” that made The Passion of the Christ a blockbuster.

Well, their hope is well founded. At the event they invited me to, I and others from the religious media were deeply impressed by the brief preview we saw.

It's interesting to note that Hollywood's most successful films over the past few years have been films deeply rooted in faith. That certainly was true for the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien, and for Mel Gibson's The Passion.

With The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe comes an allegory that is plainly obvious for all those who have eyes to see.

The story features the central character of Aslan the lion, not only in the first story, but in the later stories in The Chronicles of Narnia as well. Aslan describes himself as the “son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea.” In the most moving passage of the book, he lays down his life for the “sins” of Edmund and is later “resurrected.” There can be no denying Aslan's role as a sacrificial Christ-like figure.

In one of the stories, Aslan tells the children that they are growing too old for Narnia, and that they must come to know him by his other name.

A young girl once wrote to Lewis inquiring what Aslan's other name might be. Lewis responded:

“Has there ever been anyone in this world who 1) arrived at the same time as Father Christmas, 2) said he was the son of the Great Emperor, 3) gave himself up for someone else's fault, to be jeered at and killed by wicked people, 4) came to life again, and 5) is sometimes spoken of as a lamb?”

Whereas The Passion was in-your-face Christianity, The Lion is a bit more nuanced.

Many Christian leaders have wondered and worried whether the film will be faithful to Lewis’ story, especially given its affiliation with Disney. Others, who have seen previews, have noted that Disney did not exert creative control over the film, allowing the story to be told much as Lewis had written it.

If that's true, and I suspect that it is from a 10-minute preview screening I saw last week, then there's much to look forward to in December.

Good is clearly good, and evil is clearly evil.

Leaders of faith are rightly excited about the possibility for using the film to introduce filmgoers to Christ. They see it as an evangelization tool and are coming up with ideas for promoting the film among their neighbors, families and congregations.

One evangelical pastor described how he planned to put up posters and a life-size cardboard cut-out of a lion in his gathering space. Another spoke of inviting neighbors to see the film, and them asking them over to his house afterwards for dessert and discussion.

Such are the ways of our evangelical brothers and sisters. They seem to understand evangelization in a way that Catholics sometimes fail to grasp.

Catholics could borrow a page from Protestants on this one. While the Catholic Church doesn't endorse movies, there's no reason why individual Catholics can't imitate their Protestant brothers and sisters in using the film to reach out to others.

That could mean inviting a fallen-away family member to see the film, hosting a Narnia party for teens or booking a theater for a special showing in the community. If the film can help lead people to Christ, then we as Catholics ought to be doing our part.

In Hollywood, nothing speaks quite as loudly as money. If the film does as well as people seem to think it will, it will not only send yet another undeniable message to the ailing industry of the importance of faith, but it will also ensure that the remaining six children's books written by Lewis will be faithfully translated for the big screen.

If the “Lion” saves the “Mouse,” it could give knew meaning to the expression “Christ saves.”

Tim Drake is the author of Young and Catholic:

The Face of Tomorrow's Church

(2004, Sophia Institute Press).