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?