March 02, 2004

Disney Eats Crow for "Narnia"
Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is topping worldwide box office reciepts and just won Best Picture, and every other award that it was up for. So today, Disney is trying to make up for the mistake of originally passing on the opportunity to make "Lord of the Rings" by adapting C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" to the big screen, starting with "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." In order to make the film work, Disney needed a first-class visionary director to head up the project. So who did they pick up? Andrew Adamson, the director who proved his sense of epic scale and respect for literature with the epic "Shrek." Ahem.

The problem is that "The Chronicles of Narnia" are more slanted towards children than the far more deep and political "Lord of the Rings", so it would be something more akin to the adaption of the "Harry Potter" books. And with Adamson on board, you're sure to see the aforementioned Lion voiced by Eddie Murphy, making jokes about chasing "tail" and other such drivel. The decision to make these films is just the sort of bandwagon decision making that I'd expect out of Michael Eisner lately, but hiring Adamson shows just how desperate that Disney is without PIXAR in their corner.

"Shrek" was, at it's core, a thinly-veiled one-finger-salute at all things Disney, from the parks to corporate management. Let's review, shall we?
  • Shrek was put out by Dreamworks SKG, of which the "K" stands for Jeffrey Katzenberg former head of Studio Operations at Disney. Katzenberg's "former" status was courtesy of Mr. Eisner, who tried to stiff him on bonuses.

  • The vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad was a caricature of Eisner, made short in the film, most likely in response to Eisner calling Katzenberg "That Dwarf."

  • Farquaad's eviction of the magical storybook creatures from his forest is rumored to be a reference to Eisner's rejection of the Disney heritage when he took charge. (Eisner's first speech to Disney employees reportedly started with the line "Walt is dead. Let's move on.")

  • The Castle of Duloc in the film *IS* Cinderella's castle from DisneyWorld, and a man in a character suit gards the gate.

  • When the Donkey pushes the button at the Indformation Center, the puppets sing a parody of Disney's strict rules of conduct: "Welcome to Duloc / Such a perfect town / Here we have some rules / Let us lay them down / Don't make waves / Stay in line / And we'll get along fine / Duloc is a perfect place / Please keep off of the grass / Shine your shoes / Wipe your... FACE. / Duloc is, Duloc is / Duloc is a perfect... place"

But guess what? Shrek proved to be movie theater gold. It was a cartoon, but not one of those sissy DISNEY cartoons that had all those "family values". It was an adolescent-humored buddy film that had real attitude, not some silly musical. Most of the Disney-bashing went over the kids' heads, but what they caught on to, they loved, because it was making fun of the films that they've grown out of. Parents took their kids to see it because it was a cartoon, and kids, specifically adolescent boys, wanted to see it because it was like no other cartoon before it: It was hip, fresh and slightly crude. Shrek's success created the animation wing of Dreamworks. Because there was now more than one player in the animation arena, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film" was re-introduced, and won that year by "Shrek."

Andrew Adamson, The man who directed this film, will now be at the helm of "The Chronicles of Narnia," which could be one of Disney's biggest film projects to date. Adamson may have proved his profitability and audience rapport with "Shrek," but many of the jokes were at Disney's expense. For Eisner to bring him on board for the "Narnia" films shows just how desperate that Disney is in their post-Pixar era; having to hire the man who made millions by thumbing his nose at them.

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