Luckily the Disney/ Walden production of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a true delight. Arriving virtually intact with not too much added or changed from the source material I'm happy to say that this one will be a pleasure for the kids and the adults, for the fans and for those new to the series. Best of all, it's that rare adaptation that works on its own, but also makes the viewer want to read (or re-read) the books as soon as possible!
At the height of the Nazi bombings of London the Pevensie children, Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan are sent to live with at the rural estate of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). Unfortunately under the watchful eye of (the) Mrs. Macready (Elizabeth Hawthorne), living in that creaky old mansion is about as much fun for four children as an Amway Seminar on detergent powder.
That all changes when young Lucy (the very capable Georgie Henley) discovers an elaborate wooden wardrobe that leads her through a portal to the world of Narnia. It's a winter land without heroes, ruled over by a cruel Witch Queen who keeps all her subjects subjugated like Democrats in Congress. Surprisingly this isn't recounted to her by Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones of Led Zeppelin (off day no doubt), but by her new friend Tumnus, the Faun (a friendly satyr-like creature played by James McAvoy). Unfortunately, when the not-so-friendly Edmund (Skandar Keynes) follows her in, it's the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) who befriends him.
It turns out that it's all a part of an elaborate prophecy that will only be fulfilled with all four Pevensie kids ascending to the monarchy of Narnia and wiping the winter queen and her were-Gestapo regime from the land faster than a quality show from the Fox broadcasting schedule. Naturally queen whitey is none too pleased about this concept, and launches a plan of her own to keep Narnia frosty.
It's the two more reluctant Pevensies that make the big difference here. Susan (Anna Popplewell) is the sweet and smart surrogate of the group, while Peter (William Moseley) slowly proves himself to be a natural born leader. The circle (and the title) is complete with the appearance of the regal lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson). A better example of the Philosopher King, you'd be hard pressed to find! Trust me... he's no "lion in winter"!
Director Andrew Adamson is no stranger to computer animation, with not only a goodly number of visual effects credits under his belt, but the director credit for both Shrek films (to date). What is striking here is how adept he is at directing live action (considering this is his first shot at it... you're welcome, C.S.!). Adamson brings forth a great deal of life from all characters real and drawn.
The seamless effects (there's more CG here than in Garth Brooks' pseudonym) are perfect from credits up to credits down. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has one of the best war sequences I've ever seen in a film, amazingly blending the animated with the live action. The animals have to be seen to be believed, and while you'll know these are mere computer generated models, it's easy to suspend your disbelief here. And that goes especially for Aslan. With the exception of a few slightly anthropomorphized gestures and facial expressions (the mouth has to lip sync Neeson's voice after all), Aslan really looks like a lion! You'd swear he was real if he was possible... sort of like Ted Koppel's toupee!
The acting is also great, from the voices of Neeson, Michael Madsen, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Rupert Everett and Cameron Rhodes to all four of the children. However, it's Tilda Swinton who steals the show here as the monstrously wicked witch. She has that seductive evil down pat here, alternating between sexy best friend and pale demon at the drop of a cross word! This chick is so scary she makes Emperor Palpatine look like Santa Claus! Oh, yeah, Santa Claus is in this one too (in his "Father Christmas" guise)!
There are a few skips in the script (by Adamson with Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely). The occasional moment feels like it must have been better supported on the page, and once or twice the screenplay has a "because I said so" feel to it. However, these moments only crop up a few times, and any logic lapses or hard-to-swallow elements are pretty well from the source material, which is admittedly a greatly imagined work. It should be noted that although this film is practically devoid of blood, this is still a pretty violent affair with at least one murder, and quite a lot of other battle-style violence and a sacrifice ritual that might well scare the kiddies... or their parents.
A quick note about the underlying themes of Christianity herein: While it's unquestionable that these beliefs certainly contributed to the story, so did the ever-looming specter of World War II and Lewis' lime-lovin' British-ness (the Satyr invites the kid to "tea" for Earl Grey's sake!). Lewis was writing a reflection of himself and his times. As a recent convert to Christianity, is there any question that this would have come up in his novel about magic? Allegory and metaphor from all over the board are painted across this movie like a sun-burn on a vacationing Irishman in Ecuador. However, this is also never heavy-handed and can be enjoyed on multiple levels here. I promise you no one is going to "get converted" by this movie that wasn't going to be anyway, and God is not going to love you any more or any less for liking or disliking a sword and sorcery flick!
If you'd prefer a fantasy film that lambastes religion like a Grisham novel on the Oprah's Book Club "revenge list", might I recommend King Arthur? I didn't think so!
It's always something to see when a Classic translates into a Classic! When it comes to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that's exactly what you get, and in return, it gets Four and One Half Stars out of Five! It's one incredible fantasy film, and well worth its 140 minute running time (it might take longer to read this review). You'd be hard pressed to do better, even if Hollywood's next Fantasy Cash-in on a quality Fantasy Epic is a new version of The Epic of Gilgamesh directed by old Rog' Corman with a CGI Enkidu, Davey Chappelle as our man Gil and TomE.Bosley as Dad! See you in the next reel, kids!
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Hey, Witchy-poo, that crown of yours is really cool! Chronicles of Narnia? Aw, I thought it was the Chronicles of Riddick
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Chronicles of Narnia? Aw, I thought it was the Chronicles of Riddick