Disney makes a marketing appeal to evangelicals for Chronicles of Narnia

In a marriage of modern mythmakers, the Walt Disney Co. is marketing a film based on C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. And in doing so, Disney will take a page from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on Lewis' novel for children and Christian allegory, will be released Dec. 9.

For Disney, the Christian marketing campaign represents a sharp break with corporate policy. Apart from Disney World's annual Nights of Joy concerts, the film is the company's first undertaking with the religious community. For some evangelical leaders, it represents the effective end of their Disney boycott.

The entertainment giant, which bills itself as a Magic Kingdom, has carefully avoided religion for most of its history. Yet Disney has launched a 10-month campaign aimed at evangelical Christians to build support for Narnia, a $100 million, live-action and computer-generated animated feature it is co-producing with Walden Media.

Disney has hired several Christian marketing groups to handle the film, including Motive Marketing, which ran the historic, grass-roots efforts for The Passion. That film has grossed $611 million worldwide and is now in re-release.

The entertainment world realizes there's a big audience "that embraces a spiritual world view," says Armand Nicholi, who for decades has taught a Harvard seminar on C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. How well these groups interact "will determine how successful this marriage is."

Another Christian firm, Grace Hill Media, has also been hired, and several groups have joined the marketing effort. For instance, the Christian Web site hollywoodjesus.com launched a feature on its site recently devoted to The Chronicles of Narnia.