Entertaining and enduring: Quality storytelling can make values-based media both meaningful and enjoyable

Published: Thursday, Dec. 8 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

Lucy (Georgie Henley, center), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Caspian (Ben Barnes) are reunited with Aslan in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

At the conclusion of C.S. Lewis' "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," the majestic lion Aslan is bidding farewell to Lucy and Edmund Pevensie. The children are leaving Narnia, but Aslan assures that he will be with them in their world. He is just known by a different name.

"You must learn to know me by that name," the lion tells them.

For believers and those familiar with Lewis' religious writings, including the unmistakably Christian "Chronicles of Narnia," the line is a clear reference to Christ.

But did it belong in the movie adaptation, which was sure to be seen by an audience beyond just Christians?

For Walden Media, the answer was yes.

Micheal Flaherty, who is the president of Walden Media, remembers reading that line growing up. As a devout Christian, there's meaning beyond the surface. But religious considerations aside, it's always important to stay true to the story.

"When you are making a film based on a book that people love, the tie should always go to the book," Flaherty said. "If there is a disagreement about a line of dialogue or a scene, and you can point to the fact that this is a story that people have enjoyed, in the case of 'Dawn Treader,' for over half a century, business-wise, why would you make new Coke out of it if you want to give them that experience that they're used to?"

Walden Media chose not to strip away the layers of meaning from Lewis' Narnia stories in its three movie adaptations. In the case of Big Idea Entertainment, which produces the long-running animated series "VeggieTales," meaning is infused into every story told. But there is more to creating quality family entertainment than adding messages from the Bible, co-creator Mike Nawrocki says.

"For stuff that's going to be entertaining and truly engaging, it has to … be crafted well and be something that you want to watch," Nawrocki said. "Not something that you throw in the DVD player and run out of the room just for your child to watch, but actually to be interested in watching with them and then talking about it afterward."

Whether it's coming from a talking lion or a talking cucumber, family entertainment doesn't have to be shallow and devoid of meaning. At the same time, values-based media can still be entertaining and engaging.

For media innovators like Flaherty and Nawrocki, what's important is telling the story — and telling it well.

"Story has always been so important in cultures, and particularly in ours," Nawrocki said. "We live in such a media- and story-saturated culture, and kids get so much of their information on how to be and how to live from the stories that they're exposed to."

As Nawrocki has watched television with his two children, he's found plenty of programming that's educational and teaches good values.

But since 1993, when he and co-creator Phil Vischer introduced VeggieTales, Big Idea has been producing family entertainment with an additional layer of meaning — namely, a biblical world view "that assumes that there's a god who made us, who loves us and wants a relationship with us," Nawrocki said.

It's a perspective he felt was lacking — and still is.

"Our culture is so saturated with media, but so much of it doesn't even have that as a consideration and doesn't even approach that subject, when it is so important for people who go to church, who have that relationship with God who want to pass that idea and those values on to their kids," he said. "One of the reasons we started VeggieTales was we thought there would be a need for it because we really felt at the time … that there was a real lack of it.

"I personally don't think there's enough of that reflected in the media today."

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