Disney wants its CS Lewis movie to be the next 'Lord of the Rings' - which is why it is eagerly courting the Christian lobby. John Hiscock reports

It is not something that will cause any tremors outside Hollywood, but in the world of film marketing it is a turnaround of epic proportions.
After carefully avoiding religion for most of its history, the Walt Disney Co, in a sharp deviation from corporate policy, has reached out to Christian evangelical groups to help shape a marketing campaign for its big Christmas film, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The entertainment giant has hired several Christian marketing groups to handle the film, including Motive Marketing, which ran the campaign for Mel Gibson's wildly successful The Passion of the Christ.
The move is particularly remarkable because for the past decade Disney has been the subject of a religious boycott imposed by Christian organisations, who accused the company of betraying its family-values legacy by providing employee health benefits to same-sex partners, allowing gay days at its theme parks and producing what they considered to be controversial films, books and television programmes through Disney subsidiaries.
Now the wooing of evangelicals, combined with the departure of Disney chief executive Michael Eisner - described by some religious leaders as "anti-Christian" - signals the implicit end of the boycott and the beginning of a possible money-spinning franchise for the studio, which is desperately seeking a blockbuster hit that can deliver sequels, along the lines of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films.
Based on the first of CS Lewis's seven Narnia novels for children, which have sold 90 million copies over 55 years, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a massive, £75 million live-action and computer-generated extravaganza which Disney is co-producing with billionaire Christian financier Philip Anschutz's Walden Media.
Directed by New Zealander Andrew Adamson (director of Shrek), it appears tailor-made for the faith and family market, featuring as it does a lion named Aslan who is a Christ-like figure, offering himself as a sacrifice to save a young human sinner. He is tortured and killed and then resurrected to transform Narnia into a heaven on earth.
It has already received the endorsement of Focus on the Family, the controversial conservative religious group which claims two million members and which initiated the Disney boycott in the early 1990s.
A spokeswoman for the group noted: "After the success Christians brought to The Passion of the Christ, I know Disney is banking on a big Christian turnout."
While Disney marketing executives have made a concerted push to include Christian organisations in the entire production and marketing of what the studio hopes will become the first of several Narnia films, the filmmakers are being reticent about the religious aspect of the story, preferring to position it as a Lord of the Rings-type fantasy adventure.