The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
fans have been coming out of the woodwork. It's not that
The Chronicles of Narnia necessarily came before
the Lord of the Rings, it's that most people probably
read C.S. Lewis' fantasy at a younger age (the first time)
than they did Tolkien. As for Rowling, yes, Harry Potter
has captured a generation's imagination, but Lewis has at
least a couple of generations on her.
So the latest
Hollywood attempt to find a fantasy franchise brings with
it a huge built-in audience that suffered through both animation
and the BBC, both inadequate to bringing the classic to
life. Now Disney presents The Chronicles of Narnia: The
Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; if not quite as it
was meant to be seen, at least it absolutely deserves to
Shrek, director Andrew Adamson transitions pretty
smoothly to live action. He has assembled a talented and
more importantly believable cast of young actors
to portray the Pevensies, prophesied Kings and Queens of
Narnia. And a director that could make us love an ogre is
exactly what this story needs, for Narnia has its share
of grotesques that have to be treated as perfectly normal,
not the least of which turns out to be the petulant Edmund
Pevensie (Skandar Keynes).
has the guts to strike a pace that Lewis would have liked.
Though the movie opens with a bang as bombs drop on World
War II London, the story ambles along for the first third.
When the youngest child Lucy (Georgie Henley) stumbles into
the titular wardrobe and into Narnia, the movie takes on
no more urgency than a little girl would have herself.
She meets the
faun Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) and has tea with him. From
his furtive glances, it's obvious to us that something big
is going on, but as Lucy isn't capable of picking up on
it, the danger never really makes itself real to the audience.
Instead, most of the energy comes from the dynamics of siblings
trying to make do without a real mother and father.
Once the whole
family enters the magical land, however, the movie turns
almost giddy. Hurtling headlong toward a war of liberation
against Jadis the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), the Pevensies
barely have time to be astonished. Director Adamson, however,
gives us the chance to be astonished by delineating a land
that may not be particularly large but is full of what the
White Witch calls the "deep magic."
Much of the
film's charm comes from Adamson's willingness to make that
magic casual. Unlike the recent Harry Potter installment,
Lion, Witch, Big Piece of Furniture remembers that
its characters don't just use magic when it suits them;
they are magic. So magnificently common does the trick become,
the film can actually step back. Even though a rhinoceros
soldier barely makes an appearance and doesn't speak, we
can somehow fill in the blank and make him more alive in
The focus of
the CG, of course, goes toward Aslan (Liam Neeson), the
mythical lion protecting Narnia. Yet another amazing leap
forward in technology, Aslan appears to live and breathe
and be affected by the elements. Combined with Neeson's
lilting baritone, he becomes every bit the noble creature
described by Lewis.
So good is the
CG, however, that it does make the more down-to-earth effects
look a little jarring. In Jadis' army, Cyclopes and minotaurs
look exactly like what they are: stuntmen in elaborate costumes
and vision-obscuring headpieces. Yet the clash between "real"
and animated fighters still comes across effectively without
any obvious switches.
Some of the
production design leaves a bit to be desired. Narnia in
winter looks suspiciously like the soundstage it was, all
the better to be able to pack up the sets and put them on
display at DisneyWorld MGM Studios. Even Jadis' dungeon
looks more like a tableaux than a functional prison.
minor quibbles in a movie that still finds its heart in
four children. Bearing a suspicious resemblance to Prince
William, newcomer William Mosely has the awkwardly valiant
eldest brother role down pat. His transition from scared
schoolboy to King works very smoothly. Lewis' story gives
Susan (Anna Popplewell) little to do but stand around doubting
before suddenly accepting her role, and Popplewell does
it well enough.
The real finds
here are Keynes and Henley as the youngest children. Adamson
directs Keynes through a difficult role as he shifts from
unlikable whiner to hero. In Henley's hands, Lucy never
gets reduced to just being cute. Henley has an unforced
honesty that never veers into cloying.
And oh, that
evil Tilda Swinton, hawkishly beautiful but able to turn
on a terrible fire within at the drop of a hat.
Though the movie
does have a straight-up PG rating, the climactic battle
scene does have some fierce moments, so don't go in thinking
this is a cute little kiddie film. It is, however, earnest
and pure, in the end celebrating some of those fabled values
people keep talking about.
At its heart,
this film is unabashedly about good versus evil. By good,
we also mean quality. And The Chronicles of Narnia
is definitely good.