Why is Narnia Okay, But Not Princess and the Frog?

My sister asked this question over the weekend—and it’s a good one. Why are we okay with allowing our kids to watch The Chronicles of Narnia, but not okay with The Princess and the Frog? In her mind it seems strange and understandably so. On the surface, it might seem inconsistent, given that both have magical elements and a basic “redemptive” storyline and both have some scary elements. So why do we let our oldest watch the former and not the latter?

Outside of personal experiences that play a huge role in our decisions in what to and not to watch, we’ve found that there are some pretty clear differences:

1. “Pretend” versus “real” magic. The more fantastical elements of the Narnia films are exactly that—fantasy. Magic healing potions, glowing swords and enchanted dragon treasure are very different than practices which can be and are performed in reality by practitioners of voodoo. This is a particularly important aspect for us as Emily and I have both had experiences dealing with the occult.

2. Worlds and worldview. The Princess and the Frog offers a worldview where all is one. “Good” magic and “evil” magic are flip sides of the same coin, and man and nature are on equal terms. This is a worldview that is antithetical from Christianity’s necessary distinction between Creator and creation, mankind from the rest of creation and a clear distinction between good and evil.

3. The nature of redemption. In The Princess and the Frog, redemption is found within—the lead character discovers that all she has to do is believe in herself and if she tries hard enough, she can make her own dreams come true. In Narnia, while the movies are less strong on this point than the books in later installments, redemption comes outside the self. This is most clearly seen in Aslan’s sacrificing himself to pay the blood debt Edmund owes to the White Witch—and as a result breaks her hold not only on Edmund but on the people and land once and for all. Edmund’s redemption comes not from his penitent attitude, but from the sacrifice of another. Even in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for all its flaws in translating Eustace’s storyline, gets one thing right: Eustace is restored to human form not by his changing his ways, but by the intercession of another.

All this said, we don’t believe the Narnia movies are perfect films that we can just plop the kids down with and say “have fun.” Prince Caspian is far too intense for our oldest to handle, so we’ll be holding off on that one for a while. They also goof on a number of the things that make the books great (this is something Trevin Wax has helpfully pointed out in his assessments of Prince Caspian and Dawn Treader). But here’s why they’re still far more helpful at this stage than a lot of other films—they offer us a more natural opportunity to both explain the similarities and differences to what our family believes in a way that allows us to consistently point our children back to the gospel and focus primarily on what we’re for rather than what we’re against.


Question for readers—if you’ve got kids, how do you determine what is and isn’t appropriate for your kids to watch?

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  • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com/ Amber

    Good post! I haven’t yet had to cross this bridge with our daughter, so it’s helpful to start thinking about now. One thing that struck me as I read is how I think we know intuitively a lot of times what movies we’re comfortable with and which we’re not, even if we can’t effectively communicate why…so it’s great to have a concise argument on the topic.

  • http://www.changedbythegospel.com/ Thad Bergmeier

    But at what point is it good for you to watch things with your kids and have discussion with them, so they can learn the art of discernment. My guess is they will see it eventually, wouldn’t you want that to be with you as you can teach them through it. Teach them the differences between the two (which I am not so sure I fully agree–magic is magic, whether you say it is real or pretend).

    We have chosen to watch things like this with our kids to help them process through these sort of things.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Interestingly, we’d asked that she not be shown the Princess and the Frog until we’d had a chance to watch it (a request that was ignored). So when we first watched it, we were shocked at how inappropriate it was for someone her age (she was 3 when she first saw it—I don’t know that it’s appropriate for someone under 10). We’re not against her ever watching it, but we do want to help build her ability to discern what’s appropriate before seeing it again even as we continue to discuss.

  • http://twitter.com/willadair willadair

    Well written. 

    With respect to 1 & 2: I see where you are coming from, and I agree with the idea that little one’s under about 8 or 9 years old need careful and thoughtful supervision. Like most any princess Disney movie with bad magic, it needs to be handled with care. Our daughter (almost 4) can watch say Cinderella which has only good magic but is not allowed to watch yet Little Mermaid, Princess and the Frog, and the princess movies of that nature. 
    Most children in the West, especially if their parents help develop a healthy understanding of imagination, know that magic is pretend.

    Magic to most of us is simply all in the world of imagination. Yet we should want to shape our children’s imagination towards the redemptive kingdom and it’s King.

    Parents need to help to distinguish our modern understanding in the West of magic as pretend and the historical roots of the Bible’s justifiable condemnation of spiritualized totem magic. Parents can speak on subjects like voodoo with the context of the sinful heart and possible demonic overtones in our understanding as Christians. It can be a opportunity to present the gospel. 

    The minority of those in the West that actively believe in “real” magic is not in my view enough to keep children sequestered away from fantasy that uses magic as a plot device. I don’t want to do a “thou shall not” parent which may lead them to rebellion and doing it covertly for the sake of them wanting to experience the forbidden fruit.

    The “realness” of magic in our world is either mere wish fulfillment at best, or at worst demonic activity. It gives us a opportunity to interact with our culture with the Story of some One rather than something that is far more powerful than any mystic spell or shaman’s totem. 

    With respect to 3: I am in complete agreement with promoting the “natural opportunity to both explain the similarities and differences to what our family believes in a way that allows us to consistently point our children back to the gospel and focus primarily on what we’re for rather than what we’re against.” I would just say that if a child that is old enough to really start to want to explore things like the Princess and the Frog on there own and not because some adult wants them to experience “the magic of it” or because it’s supposedly a cheap baby sitter.

    I would cautiously figure a way to allow that exploration as a teaching and evangelistic tool. I believe the main thing is what is the age of the child and why do they want to watch this movie? We’ve allowed our daughter to watch parts of children’s movies and skipped parts that we found objectionable.

    • Dplaird

      Interesting idea of a ‘thou shalt not’ parent.Somewhere and some time you will be the ‘thou shalt not’ parent. You can’t avoid it, you are raising a sinner (but you knew that, right?). What helps them is if you teach them self control when they are young. As they get older, you can talk to them about when and where to use that self control. This has helped our family as well as building a family identity – talking to them saying “this is what our family does. We are the Longs and this is what we do.”

      • http://twitter.com/willadair willadair

        There are times that the phrase “this in what family does not do because we are Adairs” is echoed throughout our home. There are absolutely times that prevenient grace is formed in to the thou shall nots as we share our family identity with them. I just desperately want to create a environment of grace where my little ones long for something better than what the world offers and that the worldly temptations look like bitter instead of inviting fruit. Maybe it is shell shock from growing up in part of a fundamentalist church but I believe it is more of living in a idea of Christian hedonism (see Piper’s Desiring God) and living in a Kuperian view of sphere sovereignty that our home offers more joy than the secular. Our family is a experiment in God’s Grace.

  • http://sightregained.com Louis Tullo

    Thanks for sharing Aaron! I really liked seeing your thought process here. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about at times even though I don’t have any children yet.

  • Dplaird

    Hi,
    I agree with your ideas with what kids should watch. I have learned over the years that kids are more sensitive than I think they are and some have an incredible capacity for memorizing everything they see. Those two thoughts have served us as criteria for what we let our children watch. We have also tried to honor in our own family that in Jesus’ prayer (he prays and asks that God’s name be kept holy). We figured watching stuff that swears a lot, enjoying that as entertainment, isn’t aligning ourselves with his prayer. Cut swearing out and that cuts out a whole lot of stuff. – even Disney stuff. We also stopped watching programs that reduced adults to idiots or non-existent

  • Ben Thorp

    It’s definitely worth reading this post over on Desiring God ( http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/three-objections-to-fairy-tales-and-c-s-lewiss-response ) which includes CS Lewis’ reaction to fairy tales.

    We’ve had this ongoing discussion in our family – our 4 year old daughter is, like many girls her age, fascinated by fairies and the like. It’s too easy to make sweeping generalisations and rules, sadly. My sister (who is both older and wiser than I) suggested that for her own personal viewing, she doesn’t mind fantasy as long as things like witches are represented as evil, rather than good. 

    Magic in films is very tricky. One of our favourite films is “Tangled”, which does, of course, include magic. There are many other interesting themes to consider too. Children don’t generally make the fine distinctions that we do – like how “magic” and “miracles” are different. 

    I don’t have any hard and fast rules as yet. Generally I prefer for my children not to view things where magic and spells are portrayed only as good. Ultimately, though, I think the important thing is to start your children onto a path of discussion and discernment about films nice and early. I think this is a much healthier pattern long term – if all you do is set rules, then at the point when they grow out of your rules, they have no structure by which to develop their own boundaries. Better is to get them used to discussing _why_ something might be good or bad, which is a habit that they need never grow out of. 

  • Paul

    in the Princess and the Frog, much hope and reverence are placed in the Evening Star rather than the God who created the stars. Astronomically the Evening Star and the Morning Star were thought of as different from each other. Most times, it’s true, they are. Sometimes it’s Jupiter or Mars or Saturn. A lot of times, it’s actually Venus. In Scripture, another name for Satan is Morning Star and the star that accompanies the crescent moon in Islamic symbols is Venus. So, one could make the assertion that those who follow god of Ishmael are paying homage to the prince of darkness, himself…and that same Evening Star so revered in the movie is not as harmless as, say, Hansel & Gretel or Sleeping Beauty. Nevermind all the witchcraft in the film.