Marketing of ‘Narnia’ Presents Challenge

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 11 – With two months to go before the release of its big-budget film “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the Walt Disney company 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 last week of a Christian pop album of music inspired by the film. But prospects for a previously announced secular soundtrack now seem cloudy, executives involved in the process say. Disney executives say that at the very least the CD will be delayed beyond its planned Oct. 25 release.

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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, Mr. 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 CD’s, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

And the album already appears to be crossing into territory where the genre is rarely marketed, said Bill Hearn, the president and chief executive of EMI’s Christian Music Group. EMI has been promoting “Narnia” songs to mainstream radio, and Mr. Hearn said 16 stations playing “adult contemporary” music have added Mr. Chapman’s song “Remembering You” to their playlists. The music video for the song is also expected to be included on the film’s DVD, he said.

“We believe these songs are appealing to anyone who loves ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ not just to the Christian audience,” Mr. Hearn said. “The songs are written specifically to reach a wide audience.”

The lyrics in most of the songs on the album are generally inspirational, as in Mr. Chapman’s song (“And I’ll watch as the sun fills a sky that was dark/ And I’ll be remembering you”). Others specifically reference the spiritual roots of the classic C. S. Lewis novel on which the film is based, where the lion Aslan is conceived as a symbol of Jesus. Bethany Dillon’s “Hero,” for instance, includes the lines:

You bridged the gap
You tore the veil
Almighty God in the flesh
All the plans and schemes
Against your love would fail.

The “Narnia” film arrives as the entertainment industry is taking notice of – and trying to profit from – what it views as the increasing influence of religiosity on American culture. Hollywood has been casting about for the next blockbuster on the order of last year’s “Passion of the Christ.” And in the music business, major labels have been turning to the Christian touring circuit – especially in rock music – to find new talent with the potential to cross into the mainstream, as they did with bands like Switchfoot and Relient K.

Coinciding with “Narnia,” in which EMI is aiming to reach as far as possible into the mainstream, Disney has moved to target the Christian audience. Earlier this year, Disney signed a deal in which EMI – the biggest label in the Christian genre – will distribute recordings like “Baby Einstein” and “Winnie the Pooh” to Christian retailers, the company’s first such arrangement.

In the case of the film, however, Mr. Leib said he is not worried that the Christian-music-based soundtrack will skew mainstream fans’ perceptions of the film. Disney is not using music from the Christian-oriented “inspired by” album in its television advertising for “Narnia,” nor in the film itself, Mr. Leib said.

“It’s only visible to that audience,” he added, referring to the Christian market. He added that the mainstream album would be released through Disney’s own record label, as would a planned children’s CD.

Mr. Leib said he initially questioned why EMI wanted to release its Christian-film-related album more than two months in advance of the movie – an unusually lengthy lead time – but then decided it would be appropriate because of the time required to build support for songs on Christian radio.

For his part, Mr. Hearn said he pushed to release the album early to capitalize on the companies’ summer marketing efforts, which included playing the “Narnia” movie trailer at Christian music festivals and performances by artists on the album at “Night of Joy,” an annual Christian music event presented at the Walt Disney resort in Florida last month.

The “Narnia” tale, he noted, “is a world-renowned story, and it creates great exposure for our artists not only inside the Christian community but outside.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
New York Times, USA
Oct. 12, 2005
Jeff Leeds
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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday October 14, 2005.
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