With little more than a month to go before the release of its big-budget film "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," The Walt Disney Co. wants very much to whet audience appetites by placing music from the soundtrack on radio and music-video channels.
But Disney's tricky marketing strategy for "Narnia" - which includes aggressively courting Christian fans who can relate to the story's biblical allegory while trying not to disaffect secular fans - is particularly tricky when it comes to music.
The spiritual character of "Narnia" is being reinforced with the debut on the charts this month of a Christian pop album of music inspired by the film. But prospects for a previously announced secular soundtrack seem cloudy, executives involved in the process say. Disney had planned to release the CD Tuesday but executives have delayed that.
Mitchell Leib, president of music for Disney's Buena Vista film unit, said he still expected to assemble and release a secular soundtrack before the film's Dec. 9 opening. But he cited production snags. He said he was still awaiting a recording by the rock band Evanescence that is intended as the film's closing song. He added that planning had also been complicated by last-minute decisions about how music will be used in the complex, special-effects-laden film.
The Christian-oriented album's status as the only "Narnia" musical project in the marketplace, for now at least, could upset the studio's plan to balance two audiences. "If they go ahead and release only the one soundtrack, I think they're risking being identified as turning toward a blatantly religious company, which does turn some people away," said Chris Ahrens, founding editor of Risen, a San Diego-based lifestyle magazine that explores the spiritual beliefs of entertainment figures. On the other hand, Ahrens said, if the music strikes a chord in the Christian market, "I think that's huge for Disney in terms of the movie audience." He added, "It seems like a huge gamble."
The absence of the secular album could represent a golden opportunity for the Christian-music unit of EMI Group, the label that released the "Narnia" album, and the contemporary Christian genre in general.
The album - which features original songs by such Christian pop mainstays as Jars of Clay and Steven Curtis Chapman - sold an estimated 5,200 copies in its first week, barely a blip on the overall Billboard sales chart but enough to rank as No. 10 among contemporary Christian music CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan.