Enchanted Cheeseburgers: The Modern-Day Narnia Movie That Almost Happened

Kathleen Kennedy, currently president of Lucasfilm, and producing partner Frank Marshall once tried to adapt The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for Paramount in the mid-1990s. And the results were disastrous, at least according to C.S. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham.

After decades of success in Hollywood, the pair acquired the rights and began developing a Narnia film under their production house, The Kennedy/Marshall Company. Their plan was to begin filming in 1996.

The Screenplay

In the original draft, the film was set in present-day Brentwood, Los Angeles. It opens on a smoggy LA day with a helicopter dangling a huge lion statue from the clouds. The action, seemingly, is expedited when our Pevensie children are exiled to England due to Edmund’s habit of stealing CD’s from a store. The Witch Witch later attempts to lure Edmund with enchanted cheeseburgers rather than Turkish Delight.

Further drafts would include:

  • A giant water spirit
  • Flocks of evil ravens flying out of Jadis’ mouth
  • Aerobatics by the Witch’s sleigh
  • A “cynical humanistic philosophy”

At the time of development, U.S. based producers were seemingly reluctant to make British entertainment. Films set in or revolving around British children were viewed as more of a risk for North American audiences.

A Distressed Gresham

Gresham’s reaction to his first read-through was that of disbelief.

I literally hurled [the script] at the wall about four times… it just got worse and worse and worse. I thought “What the heck is wrong with these people?”

Douglas Gresham
Douglas Gresham recounts reading Paramount’s Narnia script at a 2019 conference

Gresham, who had no control or approval rights under this deal, actually made a public post online in 1996 on a Usenet discussion thread, encouraging fans to voice their concerns to the producers and studio.

I am fighting, and I will continue to fight against this filth, but I feel very much like David going up against Goliath… I would actually not be in the least displeased if every Narnia fan in the world were to write to Kennedy/Marshall and Paramount to express concern that they stay faithful to the book, and not trash it.

Douglas Gresham

Besides the obvious adaptation worries, Gresham also feared that technology hadn’t quite arrived at the point where they could have realistic versions of talking animals, namely Aslan.

For one reason or another, the project never released.

It wasn’t until 2001 that development regarding Narnia film adaptations picked up steam again. Unsurprising, given that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – a film set in Britain, starring British children – released that same year.

Do you think it’s essential for Narnia adaptations to be set in their original time period? Let us know in the comments below!

62 Responses

  1. Col Klink says:

    If I can write this without sounding rude, why is this being posted now? It happened a long, long time ago.

    To answer the question, and assuming its just talking about the English sections of the stories and not the Narnian sections, I’d say it’s important for The Magician’s Nephew and since you can’t really keep MN in the same time period and change the time periods for the other books, yeah, it’s important.

    And while the thought of changing the time periods for the others doesn’t bother me as much, there’s no really good reason why the creators of any adaptations should do it.

    • Matthew Markovich says:

      Why is this post here? The article is about LWW not MN. Editing need improvement on this site.

      • Col Klink says:

        The question asks “do you think it’s essential for Narnia adaptations to be set in their original time period?” The Magician’s Nephew is a Narnia book. An adaptation of it would be a Narnia adaptation.

    • Wunderkind_Lucy says:

      It appears that the video of the interview with Douglas Gresham was posted this year although the interview happened last year, so I’m guessing that may be why it was posted now.

      As far as your answer, that’s exactly what I was thinking. If you change the time period for LWW then you’d have to change the time period for MN. Personally, I usually prefer for adaptations to keep to the original time periods.

    • The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

      Wunder is right. 🙂 The video of Douglas Gresham’s talk inspired some research on various topics and this was one of them. I was surprised about how little I knew about this chapter of Narnia filmmaking history!

  2. Fireberry says:

    Perhaps Kathleen Kennedy’s development talents might be better applied to “Star Wars”. Oops, never mind. 🙂

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      Lol I just want a Narnia Kevin Feige to show up soon, otherwise I’m getting increasingly worried about Netflix’s adaptation

  3. Narnian says:

    Well this sounds terrible… Kathleen Kennedy needs to stay from away from Narnia!

  4. collageartist says:

    I’m glad that Kennedy and Mashall’s craziness never saw the light of day. Here’s hoping that no one gets any bee in his or her bonnet to take up that disastrous drecky nonsense.

  5. Glenwit says:

    I was not super familiar with this initial film attempt, but I’m so glad this was scrapped. So glad.

    Other people have already done a great job of addressing whether or not adaptations should stay faithful to the source materials’ location and timeline (and so I don’t really feel I have anything more to add in that regard), but absolutely nothing is gained by fixing something that isn’t broken.
    Especially when every “fix” is inferior to the original ideas in every way.

  6. Carley says:

    Oh wow… I seriously can’t believe this almost happened. If it had, I wouldn’t be the fan of Narnia I am today. The Walden Narnia movies are what led me to read the books. If this movie had been made… OK, it’s probably better I don’t think about that. Because, I LOVE the Chronicles SO much, and it’s really depressing to think of these books that are dear to so many people being turned into THIS. There is a bright side to it, though. Whatever changes Netflix might make to the books, NOTHING could ever be as bad as this.

    And do I think the Narnia adaptations should be set in their original time period? Yes, I do. The setting is actually quite important to the Chronicles. I believe they were going to change the air raids to earthquakes, since it was set in California. And Turkish Delight to cheeseburgers, England to California, 1940s to 1990s… Yes, I think it matters.

  7. The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

    As someone who was very frustrated with the 2010 Fox/Walden adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, reading about this chapter of Narnia movie history kind of put that in perspective. Wow. As many issues as I have with VDT, I’m genuinely glad that it’s “the worst” that big Hollywood has done with Narnia.

  8. Matt says:

    Imagine if Paramount went through with this version. We’d be living in a very different timeline right now!

    • Just Queen, not High Queen says:

      And I thought we were living in the darkest timeline since the Walden series didn’t finish, lol. If this was made, that would have been a darker timeline.

  9. Eustace says:

    He hurled it at the wall two or three times, not four. Edit needed in text.

  10. BooksandFireflies says:

    I definitely think the Narnia books have to be in their original period, if you want to do it as a Narnia adaptation. I can’t stand when people move stories out of their original time period, unless they are making a sort of spin-off parody. By that I mean things like re-tellings. 10 Things I hate about You is a modern day retelling of thr Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare. If it’s a retelling, you can move the time period. If it’s an actual adaptation, NO.

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      I think you made a very good distinction. Like BBC Sherlock is a retelling of Sherlock Holmes in modern day, and in my opinion done really well. They change and subvert things from Conan Doyle’s series and add their own ideas and spins, so it really is it’s own entity,

      I fear a “Modern Narnia” would have too many gags of the modern world (I’m cringing thinking of them trying to be “hip” and having there Pevensies do tiktok dances or something) clashing with Lewis’ story to at all keep the original tone. It would also lead to questions like “Why wouldn’t Lucy just record with her phone inside the wardrobe?” that would be my first instinct at least.

      I know that KK’s production wouldn’t use those references because it wouldn’t be set in 2020, but in general changing the time period seem like a whole host of terrible ideas in my opinion.

      • J says:

        Lucy is 8, so she wouldn’t have a phone – if her parents had traditional common sense, instead of modern paranoia.

        Also it’s freaking cold in Narnia – no Wi-Fi. I can imagine the older Susan whipping out her phone only to find the battery died. Just leave it in the Wardrobe. 😉

        Then the battery comes back on in the very last scene in the spare room.

      • J says:

        Twist: No Wi-Fi at the professor’s house either. 😀

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        I mean, speaking as someone who lives in a cold area with spotty service, I don’t think wi-fi or reasonably cold weather would affect a recording device’s ability to record.

        However, no wi-fi at the professors’ house is pretty believable. I suppose that after living at the house for a while they wouldn’t bother keeping phones on them anymore

  11. Just Queen, not High Queen says:

    Oh boy! An article about Kathleen Kennedy potentially messing up a beloved series? Brace yourself, lol.

    I had thought the whole thing about setting LWW in modern day was something briefly considered and quickly dismissed when the Walden crew was in pre-production. I didn’t realize it was an actual draft long before then. This script description makes that leaked VDT script (and the movie itself) look like a masterpiece.

    Surprised you didn’t make this a podcast episode. Maybe in the future?

  12. Thank you for letting us know the details behind this avoided movie disaster from Douglas Gresham’s talk late last year, which was only recently released to the public. I strongly believe any Narnia movie should reflect the original material and time period as much as possible. It should be a requirement that whomever does Narnia’s movies going forward *must get approval* from the man alive who knows them best: C.S. Lewis’s beloved stepson Douglas, who should be invited to supervise as much or as little as he thinks best. That not only does all Narnia lovers a tremendous favor, but also guarantees success to the movie studios and production houses involved.

    • Col Klink says:

      Do you mean financial success? Because as much as I’d like to believe the public is clamoring for really good Narnia adaptations, I don’t see much evidence that that’s the case. 🙁 I’m not even sure it guarantees artistic success. The old BBC serials seemed like they were trying to capture the feel and appeal of the books and I tend to find them OK at best.

      • Skilletdude says:

        Of all the criticisms of the BBC version, fidelity to the books isn’t usually one of them. Most people tend to focus on the often pedestrian special effects and questionable acting performances.

        I would agree that general audiences may not be clamoring for ultra-faithful Narnia adaptations, or Narnia adaptations at all, but if a company chose to go this route with today’s advances in technology and a bigger focus on quality performances from the actors, I think a faithful series could work beautifully.

      • Larry W. says:

        The BBC serials weren’t all that bad if you don’t mind if you don’t mind the lack of technology. Hopefully, the Netflix version will be reasonably faithful to the books if it is made. I think some people were disappointed that the movies did not continue beyond the third film, but apparently there wasn’t the strong financial backing to make another film. If Netflix is doing the series like producing a TV drama there is more hope of finishing the books because financing the project would probably be easier.

  13. Rebekah says:

    I definitely heard about this horrible script back in the day, I did not know Katherine Kennedy was attached to this project, but I did know this was going to be a Paramount production. That is why for many years I boycotted Paramount and refused to watch any of their movies. My family was keenly aware that I would go out of my way to make sure I was not watching a Paramount movie.

  14. daughter of the King says:

    I don’t hate the idea of adaptations setting stories in present day. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an excellent example of how well that can work. Lots of Shakespeare performances have also done that successfully. But . . . I really don’t like this one. Maybe it would have worked. Maybe. But cheeseburgers? Really? At least make it a Hershey bar.

  15. EH says:

    I’d heard about the cheeseburgers, but I didn’t remember hearing about things like ravens flying out of Jadis’ mouth. This sounds very bizarre. I mean, why not just come up with your own original movie at this point if you were going to change so much?

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      They just want the name recognition I think. Like when they adapted the Giver and went full blown YA dystopia.

      • EH says:

        I just remembered How To Train Your Dragon. They changed some major things when they adapted the books to movies and it still worked. I wonder how the more dedicated fans of the HTTYD books felt about the movies, though?

  16. Cleander says:

    Well, I guess this is an example of what Glumpuddle always talks about- movie companies are run by business people, not artists. They often try to throw a bunch of things they think are “hot” at the moment into a film and call it good.
    Though it still boggles the mind to imagine this piece of trash becoming a movie- it would make Voyage of the Dawn Treader a masterpiece by comparison! (At least VDT got the time period right!)
    Narnia would not be Narnia without the 1940’s British backdrop. No one on the planet can make me change my mind on that score.
    And the cynical humanistic philosophy is just an atrocity. If that’s the message you want in a film, go make a different film and leave Narnia out of it.
    I’m just thankful the whole contemptible disaster fell through.

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      Not only would Walden VDT look amazing, but so would Percy Jackson’s adaptations and (dare I say it?) it sounds on par with Last Airbender movie [there is no Last Airbender movie in Ba Sing Se…]

  17. Col Klink says:

    In case people were worried that my not being super opposed to updating the settings for the non-MN books meant I’m OK with the Turkish Delight being cheeseburgers, I’m Not. (I was assuming when I originally commented on this post that everyone would take that for granted, especially since the fandom heard about the cheeseburger treatment back when the actual LWW movie was being made. But on reflection, maybe I can’t assume that, especially if someone reads my comment who doesn’t regularly read my thoughts on this site.) The words, cheese and burger have totally different connotations than Turkish and delight. It’d ruin the whole effect. But a modern update could potentially contrive a way to have Edmund still ask the White Witch for Turkish Delight (or at least something better than cheeseburgers, like Daughter of the King said.)

    Like I said, I don’t want an adaptation set in modern times. But I can’t say those adaptations are bad. I actually like the 2018 Little Women movie better than any of the more traditional cinematic adaptations I’ve seen. (Of course, I’m a casual fan at best of the book. If I were more enthusiastic about the source material, I might feel differently. I do believe that movie stayed true to the characters and themes of the book, more so than some other, more traditional adaptations.) A big part of it has to do with the author’s intentions. For example, I feel it would be terrible to update the parts of the Narnia stories that are set in Narnia itself. C. S. Lewis deliberately chose the medieval milieu because he liked it. But I don’t get the impression he cared much about the parts of the books that were set in England. The main reason to object to modernizing them would be it’s pointless and rather cynical.

    Again, the only book whose historical period feels important to me is The Magician’s Nephew because we spend so much time in England in that book, and in a major world city too, not some obscure house in the middle of nowhere, like in LWW.

    Incidentally, I wonder what Gresham meant about the script having a cynical humanistic philosophy. I’d describe humanism as optimistic. (I didn’t mean that to imply I’m a humanist BTW. I’m not.)

  18. Narnia Fangirl says:

    Ooooookaaaayyyyy. Enchanted cheeseburgers. Yup. I’m sure Edmund would fall for that. 🙂 (Yeah, right.)

  19. Larry W. says:

    How could they come up with enchanted cheeseburgers for Turkish Delight. Before I was laid off I worked for a college food service (I hope to be called back when the pandemic is over). The bakers there prepared some bars that looked like Turkish Delight. One of the bakers said to me that he had made the Turkish Delight a few years ago with the colored gelatin. I said that I did not think it could tempt me as it lured Edmund. The baker just laughed since he was quite familiar with the Narnia books. I don’t think that enchanted cheeseburgers would appeal that much to me either. 🙂

    • AslanNarnia says:

      I take it the Turkish Delight was not enchanted in the book?

      • Larry W. says:

        Yes, the Turkish Delight that Edmund had was enchanted. It was a temptation for him. I don’t think I would have tempted by it, but course if it were real that might be a different story. 🙂

      • AslanNarnia says:

        Was that the reason then he acted the way he did and betrayed his brother and sisters? I thought he was just being contrary. How culpable was Edmund then? Did he have free will?

      • Larry W. says:

        AslanNarnia, the Turkish Delight had some influence on Edmund, but it was his own fault and his own choice when he betrayed his brothers and sisters and Aslan. It definitely was his own free will and his own responsibility.

      • AslanNarnia says:

        Yes I think using the term enchanted here really makes the narrative thread more uncertain because maybe now people will think Edmund was acting under the Witch’s spell and that he was not choosing to do the wrong all by himself -although he did do wrong himself by taking the Witch’s food to begin with. To compare to Prince Rilian who definitely was enchanted and not making his own judgments in the SC it makes it a little unclearer how Edmund was being influenced and to were the fault in the situation ultimately lies.

      • Col Klink says:

        So have you not read the books? Because you should probably know that this website was originally created by and for fans of the books, before the movie adaptations were released. If you’re a fan of the movies, there might be other fan sites that are a better fit for you. I do think this is a really good site though, so I’d encourage you to stick around (and read the books.)

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        I was under the impression that the Turkish delight was enchanted similarly to the pomegranate Persephone eats. It’s almost like a contract because, after eating it of her free will, Persephone belongs to the Land of the Dead. In Edmund’s case, he eats the confection and belongs to the White Witch.

  20. AslanNarnia says:

    The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been adapted umpteen times. Setting it some where in modern day USA might be the jump start the franchise needs to make it more relevant to a newer audience. I thought myself the 1979 cartoon version with 1970s clothes and American accents to have been the most entertaining adaptation thus far. Who can relate to characters from 1940s WW2 England in this day and age?

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      Forgive me if I am misinterpreting you comment, but do you mean that modern audiences won’t connect well or relate with OG period Narnia characters?
      Because, by those rights, shouldn’t we also struggle to relate to Luke Skywalker, Mulan, Jon Snow, pre-iced Steve Rogers, Black Beauty, the Baudelaire orphans, or any other number of characters who aren’t from the same time period we live in?

      Personally, I haven’t noticed time period affecting character relatability as long as the writing/acting is sound.

      • Col Klink says:

        Yeah, lots of stories that take place a long time ago are still popular now. (Though maybe I’m biased because the 1979 movie is my least favorite LWW adaptation. 😉 )

    • Larry W. says:

      But shouldn’t the adaptation be authentic to the time period? I think this is only fair to the author of the book. If you modernize classics it takes something away, and they are not faithful to the original story. C. S. Lewis would not have liked that since he had respect for the old fairy tales. Please have respect for the old Narnia. I prefer the old ways.

      • AslanNarnia says:

        If the Pevensies were to come from America in a movie adaptation of the LWW which part of America and time period would you choose them to come from?

      • Larry W. says:

        I don’t think they would have the Pevensies come to or from America in a movie version of the Narnia books. Any trips to the U.S. were only mentioned a couple of times in the original books (If my memory is correct). A movie version would probably not include them because of the time limit of a film. I think that anything included in the movies should be true and authentic to the time periods of our world and Narnia as C. S. Lewis had intended them in the books.

      • Larry W. says:

        Please remember that the setting of the movies (both time and place) should be the same as the original books. Out of respect for C. S. Lewis it should not be modernized or moved to another location. I dislike modernizing classics such as moving Great Expectations to New York. Dickens would have been horrified, and Lewis would have been appalled at a modernized Narnia.

    • JFG II says:

      Who can relate to characters from 1940s WW2 England in this day and age?

      My answer: Sorry to be rude, but… Does it matter?

      Who can relate to Narnia anyway? I don’t really care: Few people I know can relate to Narnia, and yet many of those people still love Narnia regardless. My suggestion: Make it the story we know and love, and if we Americans can’t relate to it, then we’re equel with viewers from other countries who have always been perplexed by English-speaking stories. End of rant.

      • EH says:

        I can. Both my grandfathers were in the US military and another of my grandmothers worked in US radar research. I know I don’t know as much about WWII as a historian, but I do read and watch more about it than the average person. The WWII setting of the children from our world in Narnia is interesting to me.

      • JFG II says:

        Tell this to AslanNarnia. It’s his question. I only asked ‘Does it matter?’.

    • narnia fan 7 says:

      “Who can relate to characters from 1940s WW2 England in this day and age?”

      Literally anyone.

  21. Rogin says:

    Oh my.

    I’m glad Gresham has been able to have more power with recent deals. Given that he walked away from Sony/TriStar over script issues, there’s no chance we’ll see anything this bad from Netflix.

  22. narnia fan 7 says:

    Yeah, luckily that didn’t happen. Sounds like an absolute train-wreck. lol Although I have read that apparently they did later change the setting back to WW2 England as it should be.

    Also apparently John Boormen of ‘Excalibur’ game was attached to direct at some point. So, that would have been interesting.

  23. Twinimage says:

    Typical Hollywood. The “suits” don’t understand or like the original material and try to make it into something they like instead. The new Star Wars is a great example of how that happens and really hurts a franchise. I’m glad Gresham was able to fight back and get the story points and settings right.