By Tom Holste
Oct. 10, 2018
Last week, Netflix and the C.S. Lewis Estate made a surprising announcement: The late author’s Chronicles of Narnia book series is getting a fresh set of adaptations to be released on the streaming service.
In a sense, the news wasn’t that unexpected: Despite the good box office and positive reviews for the initial theatrical adaptation, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), the following films struggled to maintain an audience. The lukewarm reception for Prince Caspian caused Disney to end its development deal with the Lewis estate. The most recent entry, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (from Fox), sunk eight years ago already. So the notion of a reboot wasn’t out of the question.
In another sense, though, the announcement was surprising because the company had been working on the next theatrical film, The Silver Chair, for some time. Joe Johnston was brought on as the director in the spring of 2017. (Johnston’s previous work includes such family-friendly adventures as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Captain America: The First Avenger.) Johnston had been sidetracked when Disney asked him to complete the upcoming Nutcracker and the Four Realms after the previous director was fired, but it was reasonable to imagine that Johnston would refocus his efforts on Silver Chair once Nutcracker was finished. With the new announcement, however, it seems likely that Silver Chair has been shelved. When it’s adapted for Netflix, the producers will likely start from scratch.
This is a smart move for the Lewis estate; while I’m sad that I won’t get to see Johnston’s vision for Narnia come to life, the movie series had been flailing for some time. And Netflix is a service with a lot of quality original programming, including Stranger Things and Marvel’s Daredevil. A lot of people who wouldn’t pay to see another Narnia movie in the theater might give the new versions a chance since Netflix is taking a shot at it.
This is also a smart move for Netflix. Despite sitting near the top of the entertainment industry — it’s now more popular than broadcast, cable, Hulu or YouTube — the service has gotten into trouble in the past few months for certain shows and movies with objectionable content targeted to younger viewers, leading to online protests and service cancellations. Bringing a family-friendly series like Narnia to the service could stem the tide.
On that same note, some within the Narnia fan base are concerned that the streaming service may want to inject unsavory content into the scripts for this franchise. While anything is possible, it’s worth noting that C.S. Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, is still actively involved in the production. Gresham has fought hard in the past to make sure that previous adaptations retain the tone and themes of the original stories, and even outright prevented certain productions from moving forward. I’m hopeful that he can continue to make his voice known.
One of the more puzzling statements in the press release is the assertion that the streaming service plans to develop movies and series around the world of Narnia. There are only seven relatively short, tightly-written books; how can those be turned into the sprawling “universe” described in the press release? It’s possible that some of the books with a more episodic nature (such as Dawn Treader) might be turned into miniseries while other entries might remain as films. One certainly hopes that Netflix doesn’t develop a bunch of pointless filler material, or that any additional content they create keeps in line with Lewis’ writing.
As for what order they should go in, I’m a firm believer that the best reading order is published order, since it maintains the surprises of the series when you get to the prequels. However, a small part of me hopes that The Magician’s Nephew (the first story chronologically) gets adapted first, as it’s one of the best books in the series, and it’s never gotten a single filmed adaptation. People already know Lion very well from multiple adaptations; not enough people have experienced Magician’s Nephew.
Nonetheless, after years of production delays, Narnia is moving forward again with one of the most exciting content producers out there. Here’s hoping for the best!