I remember the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis very fondly from my elementary school days. Never having read the Lord of Rings until college, once the films began to be made, Narnia was my one outlet into fantasy. Yes, there were a couple BBC productions that our librarian showed us while reading the epic saga, but being over a decade ago, having a reboot seemed like a perfect idea. Piggybacking on the fantasy train during the mid-2000’s was a no-brainer and who better to direct than family friendly man Andrew Adamson? While, I guess there were probably a few that could come to mind considering he had never helmed a live action feature, (his two previous films were Shrek and Shrek 2). However, after viewing the film—theatrical or extended as I viewed most recently for this review—you can’t fault anything that goes on. The direction is great, the acting natural when dealing with leads of the age they are at here, special effects superb, and one can’t fault the source material. Whether you take offense to the blatant Christian metaphors and Jesus-like events or not, don’t let those preconceptions hold you back from watching the very well done piece of escapism cinema for the whole family that is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
The story is a tale of duty, courage, trust, and forgiveness. With World War II going on outside their house in Britain, the Pevensie children are escorted out of the city to the country home of Professor Kirke, (a wonderfully eclectic Jim Broadbent). While cooped up in his mansion, the kids decide to play games in order to stay sane, one of which is hide and seek. During the excursion, the youngest child, Lucy, discovers an old wardrobe, a perfect place to hide. Once inside, however, she discovers it is a pathway into a mythical land called Narnia. She meets a faun named Tumnus and learns about the White Witch who has taken over as Queen and shrouded the country in 100 years of winter. Only the true king, Aslan, can save them all from her medusa-like penchant to turn all enemies into stone and her utter disregard for anything good. As one would expect, upon her return, (hours in Narnian time, but only seconds in ours), the other children don’t believe her tale at all. This dissention only adds to the rough relationships slowly burgeoning between the siblings, causing a rift in their solidarity and a way for the White Witch to work on young Edmund, (once all four kids arrive), he with the most anger and jealousy towards the others, to get the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to be destroyed once and for all.
Being a children’s film above all else could hinder the emotional toll trying to be portrayed. Fortunately, this never becomes a problem. When there is battle and death, no blood is to be seen—this is not a Tolkien adaptation full of decapitations and gore. The warring sides contain talking forest creatures and mythical beings like dwarves, centaurs, and phoenixes. Each is very well fleshed out and a true part of the proceedings, never appearing as more prop than character. They add to the immense accessibility for young children to find themselves drawn into the world and fight against the villains. The environment is handled deftly, winter is a luscious white and the transformation to spring is subtle and effective. Each detail is cared for, as there is not one instance for you to take a too close look and find yourself watching craft rather then story.
Sure there is some great voice work from the likes of Liam Neeson and Ray Winstone, but it is the live actors that shine, whether in human form or fantastical. One of my favorite aspects of the film is Mr. Tumnus the faun played by James McAvoy. Not only is it mentioned for his real portrayal of all the emotions and inner wrestling with his heart and his fear, but also for the special effect work. Making his legs disappear into the hooves of a faun is very impressive and seamlessly done. Then you have Tilda Swinton as the White Witch—a performance that I will admit could scare many a young child, and possibly a few adults too. She takes cold-blooded to new levels and her icy stare mixed with the false smile she uses to brainwash Edmund is great. Devious and purely evil, she carries each scene she is a part of.
So, while Adamson has crafted winner, allowing all the pieces to fall together and be successful, he is not the last line in getting the rest of these books adapted to film. A lot must be put upon the four principal roles of the Pevensie children. If they are not believable, no one will take the time to see the rest that contain them, let alone the ones where people will have to be introduced to all new characters. Thankfully, these kids do the job and I can’t wait to see how they handle the work in Prince Caspian, being that they will all be knowledgeable in the fact they were kings and queens, victorious in battle. This story is where they discover their heroism; the next is where they use it to battle evil once again. William Moseley and Anna Popplewell are the elder two, Peter and Susan, and while they can be a tad stiff at times, they do the job when needed. Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley, as Edmund and Lucy, are the true finds. Both are natural and endearing, young children holding grudges and not thinking through their actions to their possible conclusions. They are fallible creatures and act as catalysts for much of the film. Never sticking out, nor showing their inexperience, these kids carry the film on their shoulders and prove that this franchise has only begun.
Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 8/10 | ★ ★ ★