How Netflix Can Make Their Narnia Adaptations a Success

In Featured, Industry Insights, Maria Andress by Amanda Valdovinos

– By Maria Andress –

Yesterday morning it was announced that Netflix closed a multi-year deal with The C.S. Lewis Company for the rights to the entire The Chronicles of Narnia series for multiple feature length film and series projects. Under the agreement, Mark Gordon of eOne Entertainment will produce along with Douglas Gresham (C.S. Lewis’ stepson) and Vincent Sieber of The C.S. Lewis Company as producers for the films and executive producers for any series. “It is wonderful to know that folk from all over are looking forward to seeing more of Narnia, and that the advances in production and distribution technology have made it possible for us to make Narnia adventures come to life all over the world,” Douglas Gresham released in a statement yesterday. “Netflix seems to be the very best medium with which to achieve this aim, and I am looking forward to working with them towards this goal.”

So what does this mean for The Silver Chair, which was supposed to begin principal photography this winter? No word has been released as of yet, but even if it is eliminated in favor of starting from the beginning of Narnia, this might be what Narnia fans have been waiting for since the takeover of the digital and special effects world.

There are many pros to Netflix taking over the complete Chronicles of Narnia. On one important note, it is simply a good time to restart, as the most recent film series actors are too old to finish. Secondly, if Netflix builds a universe from Narnia, they might as well reboot the whole thing from start to finish and complete the universe. Third and crucially, the Netflix deal guarantees a huge amount of funding and a solid platform for viewing without the box office pressure which was often a difficulty for the Walden Media films.

There are speculations on feature length films of each book or perhaps a series with seasons of  6 to 8 episodes dedicated to each book. Mark Gordon stated that “Narnia is one of those rare properties that spans multiple generations and geographies” and he is “excited to be collaborating with The C.S. Lewis Company and Netflix who have the capacity to translate the Narnia universe into both stellar feature-length and episodic programming.” Though no official announcement has been made, this comment has given rise to the idea among fans that there might be seven films on the books, plus spin offs, in the works.

There are numerous spin offs that could be done. I am particularly thinking of various series on tales mentioned in the books such as Swanwhite the Beautiful or King Gale who delivered the Lone Islands from a dragon or the first years of the founding of Narnia and the conquest of the White Witch. There could also easily be a series on the Four Kings and Queens during their Golden Age. What about High King Peter’s ongoing battles with the Calormene Tisroc or their subduing of the giants on the Northern border of Narnia?

Another aspect in favor of a spin-off series, is that the Narnia world is not as defined as that of Lord of the Rings. It would be unsound and rather offensive to its audience for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings to “make up” or seriously digress from the Middle Earth timeline because the whole backstory, family tree, dates, and more are actually outlined by J. R. R. Tolkien himself. C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, spent more time mentioning side stories in passing and having Aslan repeatedly quote: “Child, I am telling your story not hers.” That leaves much room for the imagination, a fact which even as kids we often ran with in great detail speculating and acting out what those passing comments would have looked like as whole scenes or stories.

The first key to success for this new takeover, particularly with a mainly Christian audience draw, will be in finding writers who hold the same beliefs as C.S. Lewis so that the series holds true to his Christian foundation and scope for Narnia. Without that, such a series would lose a firm audience base and might not get the views it would deserve. Narnia fans are not immune to the danger of de-Christianization. Netflix has failed in the past with such adaptations, a current very dark, atheist Anne of Green Gables show coming to mind. However, it is hard to imagine that Douglas Gresham or Vincent Sieber with their overtly Christian backgrounds or even Mark Gordon who has been so committed to bringing more faithful adaptations with them would let that slide. Particularly since dissatisfaction with Walden Media’s adaptations was one reason—besides the dwindling box offices—that the C.S. Lewis company stalled on making more films under their contract.

The second key to success for the Netflix takeover will be in remembering the original and still largest audience scope of the book series. Keeping it kid-friendly—at least for middle schoolers and early high school— but without dumbing down or patronizing the adaption will be an important factor. Think The Adventures of Merlin BBC1 series—scary, real, humorous, adventurous, intense, innocent but honest and probing—and you have an idea for thought. With better CGI, more realistic fight sequences, and a wider scope of settings of course.

Time will tell how this Netflix deal pans out. Through it all, may the true King reign!

About the Author

Maria Andress is a film production and acting alumna from JPCatholic (Class of ’17) who hails from the proud green and gold state of Wisconsin. She is currently working in film producing, and pursuing a career in period film production. She is also a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for a fascinating idea or historical tidbit that she can translate to story through the many mediums of art.