I don't want to say that I am personally responsible for Walden Media's recently revealed decision to adapt The Magician's Nephew as the next Chronicles of Narnia movie. But I will say that when I interviewed Walden president Micheal Flaherty last year, I told him back to the beginning was the way to go.
OK, so Flaherty and his team at Walden probably took their advice from someone much more important and industry-savvy than me, but whoever made the case for Magician's Nephew, I applaud them, and not just because it happens to be my favorite of C.S. Lewis' classic children's series.
After The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's stunning box office performance in 2005, audiences turned tepid on the Chronicles. Thanks to foreign receipts, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader both made money but not at the eye-popping level of the first film. What's more they failed to generate the kind of buzz and fervor studios count on with fantasy franchises.
In some ways, the drop off was unavoidable. The Chronicles' storyline has always faced a certain cinematic drawback that movies like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings do not.
Throughout Harry Potter, we watch Harry learn the lessons and form the alliances he will need in the ultimate battle against Voldemort. The same goes for Bilbo's dear nephew Frodo, whose journey is a long and arduous one, the outcome by no means clear until the final chapters of The Return of the King. But the Chronicles begin with Aslan defeating the White Witch. The way for salvation is made for those who choose it, the great battle already fought and won.
There is certainly suspense to be had from watching characters like Eustace and Jill learn to walk in the path of the Lion, but it lacks an ongoing epic quality. Heck, The Horse and His Boy concerns Narnia only in the most ancillary fashion with all the action taking place in the countries of Calormen and Archenland. It doesn't even have any Sons of Adam or Daughters of Eve as protagonists. So from an adaptation perspective, even though they're wonderful stories, the books' storylines don't leave moviegoers unfamiliar with Lewis' world wondering what happens next.
And the best thing you can do when you can't give audiences "what happens next"? Give them "how did it start."
Returning to The Magician's Nephew brings those who came out for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe back into the fold. If they want to see how Jadis the White Witch got into Narnia, where the magical wardrobe came from, or who the Pevensies' mysterious professor uncle really is, they'll have to buy a ticket (or pick up a book, and it's worth noting that Magician's Nephew ranks as the second best-read of the series). Lewis' prequel promises to answer all the questions the masses who are only familiar with the first book might have.
Then, with any luck, their renewed enthusiasm will reinvigorate the series and allow Walden to satisfy all of us die-hards with movie versions of The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, and The Last Battle.