I’ve been waiting six years to see C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on television. I first heard about the possibility, an Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation project, in 1973 at the Episcopal Convention. Caroline Rakestraw, executive director of the organization, has been waiting much longer than that.
Rakestraw first learned of the book from Lewis; she was in London to produce some recordings by him. She decided after reading Lion that it would make a wonderful television show. The Lilly Endowment helped the foundation obtain from the Lewis estate the film rights to all seven books. Then, the foundation worked on the project with Children’s Television Workshop, producers of Sesame Street and The Electric Company.
The result was the two-part animation special aired on CBS this month. (Although CBS delayed announcement of the special, hoping to keep the other networks from counterprogramming serious competition, NBC found out anyway, and scheduled a reshowing of Franco Zeferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth film, to run for four nights in April, with the first two parts shown opposite Lion. Some footage not shown the first time—many of the miracle scenes—was aired in the April rerun.) Kraft, the sponsor, spent about $3 million on the show.
Rakestraw and the foundation wanted Lion to reach a wide family audience. Lewis never intended his stories to become part of a children’s ghetto. He read fairy stories as an adult; he wanted adults to read his fairy stories. And certainly, this was a program for the whole family.
Fortunately, that message is not submerged by the adaptation. I read the script (not a final, edited copy, though) and previewed about half an hour of the two-hour program. It was enough to indicate the quality ...1
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