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The Commercialization of Narnia


By Josh Golin, December, 2005

When I was in fourth grade, after our class had finished reading C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, our teacher announced we were going on a special trip. After a short drive, we arrived at a wooded area covered in fresh snow. We walked for several minutes through the woods, our anticipation building with every step, until we arrived at a dilapidated, abandoned house. Our teacher gathered us close and asked if we knew where we were. When no one answered, she paused dramatically and then stage-whispered, "Narnia!"


She didn't have to say anything after that. For the rest of the afternoon, we raced around calling out our discoveries. The house became Professor Kirke's large country house, which contained the magic wardrobe through which the children entered Narnia. And here was the spot where Lucy first met Mr. Tumnus the faun. And look at those tracks in the snow - those could only have been made by the great Aslan himself! For one afternoon, thanks to an ingenious teacher, C.S. Lewis' wonderful story, and the power of our own imaginations, a rather unremarkable stretch of woods was magically transformed.


I've been thinking a lot about that afternoon as Disney gets ready to release the film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe. While the film will undoubtedly introduce (and reintroduce) millions of children to the wonderful world of Narnia, I fear the film is more likely to inspire trips to the mall than to the woods. My concerns have nothing to do with the content of the film (as of this writing, I haven't seen it), but rather with all of the excess commercialism linked to The Chronicles of Narnia. According to Oren Aviv, head of marketing at Disney, the film has approximately $150 million in corporate tie-ins -  an amount he believes is a record. Here's a look at some of what the film will be promoting:

  • At a time when childhood obesity is a major public health problem, The Chronicles of Narnia is promoting junk food. McDonald's is planning a line of Narnia Happy Meals. General Mills is featuring the film on boxes of cereal and touting its "Narnia-inspired" recipes. The Chex website proclaims, "It isn't always easy to get to the land of Narnia . . . But with these delicious treats inspired by that magical land, you can get a taste of Narnia right at home. Mix up some magic today with Chex cereals and other tasty ingredients!"

  • At a time when child development experts are concerned about the commercialization of play, a slew of Narnia-themed toys will accompany the film's release. Children play less creatively with toys based on media programs. Because these toys come with established characters and storylines, children are unlikely to use them to create their own world. Narnia toys include a line of action figures and several video games.

  • At a time of year when many families are overwhelmed by commercial messages and the true meaning of the holidays is often lost in a consumer frenzy, shopping malls owned by Taubman Centers will feature Narnia displays to attract customers for even more holiday shopping. While there, families can purchase Narnia porcelain dolls, photo albums, toothbrushes, and trading cards and can peruse the offerings from the estimated eighty brands that are partnering with the film.

In short, the lesson that Disney is teaching through its Chronicles of Narnia promotions is the exact opposite of what my teacher taught me and my classmates twenty-five years ago - that Narnia is a magical outdoor place and entry is free using the power of your imagination. According to Disney, entry to Narnia is purchased at supermarkets, toy stores and malls.


That's the bad news. The good news is that the commercialization of Narnia offers an excellent starting point for a discussion about the impact of marketing on children. So if you share my concerns about the Narnia tie-ins and promotions, I hope you'll raise them with other parents. If your child's teacher is using Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia Educator's Guide, help them realize that by promoting the film, they are promoting junk food and junk toys as well. If your church has endorsed Narnia (Disney is actively promoting the film to clergy), here is a chance to point out that the film's spiritual messages are undermined by its excessive commercialism.


Is it acceptable for the film adaptation of a children's classic to promote junk food and consumerism while undermining children's play? Should definitions of "family-friendly" media be limited to discussions of sexual and violent content or should they be expanded to include the marketing and associated products as well? Is it just up to parents to deal with the inevitable nagging for Narnia products and food or should we have policies that limit marketing that directly targets children?


These are the questions we must start asking if we hope to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers.


Here's hoping you and your family spend plenty of time in Narnia this holiday season - without ever stepping foot in McDonald's or a mall.


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