Donna Yourkowski can't remember the last time she took her four children to the movies.
A Christian who home-schools her kids, she thinks most movies send them in the "wrong direction" morally. But she's taking them to see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the Walt Disney Co. film based on the book by C.S. Lewis.
While refusing to call it a religious movie, Disney is using the same company that promoted Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" to publicize "Narnia" through churches across the country. The goal is to create the perfect Christmas blockbuster, appealing to both secular and religious audiences.
"However you're a fan, it really doesn't matter to us," said Dennis Rice, a spokesman for Disney's distribution arm, Buena Vista Pictures. "We want you to become a fan of the movie."
Rice said only 5 percent of the marketing budget for "Narnia," which opens Dec. 9, targeted faith-based groups. Still, there were eight showings for church groups nationwide, including one in November for about 700 pastors and church staffers at the Colorado Springs headquarters of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family.
The best-selling book, published in 1950 and the first of a series, follows four siblings sent to live in an old country house during World War II. They find the mythical Narnia through a walk-in wardrobe and help overthrow a white witch, whose spells have turned innocent victims to stone and frozen the landscape in perpetual winter.
There are Christian allusions throughout, from spiteful brother Edmund (Judas) and his noble brother Peter, a fellow "son of Adam." The heroic lion Aslan, an obvious symbol of Jesus Christ, sacrifices his life to save Edmund and is resurrected the next day in plenty of time to defeat the White Witch and her evil minions.
The story itself is popular with children and parents of all backgrounds, and is not preachy or overtly Christian, said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, who has not seen the previews.