When I learned of this behemoth adaptation of C.S. Lewis' classic about the magical world of Narnia, I had doubts that the story itself would allow for a cinematic tale as gripping as, say, "The Lord of the Rings."
Anna Popplewell as Susan. (Disney/Walden)
Now that I've seen the film, my doubts are confirmed. This $150 million adaptation from Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media is about as good a cinematic telling of Lewis' vision as we'll get. But for my money, director Andrew Adamson doesn't take you to Narnia the way Peter Jackson took audiences to Middle Earth.
That's not to say "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" isn't a good time at the movies. It is, and I'd pay to see it again for reasons I'll list below. But if you dug Middle Earth, Narnia may not be your cup of tea. Then again, those who found Jackson's "Rings" trilogy too dark or intense might find visions of "Narnia" more agreeable.
Most people probably know the general story by now: The Pevensie children—Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter—are sent away from London during its World War II air raids for safe keeping. They wind up at the home of an old professor who keeps, in a spare room, a wardrobe that turns out to be a portal to a land called Narnia. The Pevensie children enter Narnia, which is in the midst of perpetual winter on account of the nasty White Witch.
The children, however, are seen by some Narnians as fulfillers of an old prophecy speaking of Narnia's liberation. As the Pevensie children embrace their destiny and struggle with the White Witch, a strong, noble lion named Aslan comes to their aid.
Director Adamson translates all this to screen pretty well. You won't be twiddling your thumbs at movie's end, but at 2 hours 20 minutes, a few sequences could have been trimmed.
The movie, unfortunately, doesn't have all the pistons of rhythm and dialogue and nuance firing. For example, when Lucy and the faun Mr. Tumnus enter his house for the first time, Mr. Tumnus shakes the snow from his hooves with a subtle and endearing clap-clap-clap-clap-clap of hoof on wood. It's a clever, fun, restrained touch that—were this film bursting with brilliance—would have been duplicated throughout.
As it is, many of the lines and moments are just functional or in tribute—there because Lewis wrote them 50 years ago, not because we can't live in and enjoy this cinematic world without them.
The film has several elements to really recommend it, though.
First, the actors playing the Pevensie children are generally terrific. They look like a family, act like a family and shoulder what must surely be a burden of expectations with finesse.
Second, the sets are pretty good, and the various Narnian creatures that roam about them—from fauns and centaurs to hags and ghouls—are fun to watch.
Third, the way those furry coats in the wardrobe give way to snow-caked branches which give way to the lamppost is just so enchanting—on paper as well as in this film. Kudos to Adamson for translating the magic of that piece of furniture.
Fourth, the Beavers. These talking animals are well conceptualized and executed. They're the first talking animals we meet, and it falls to Susan to state the obvious when Mr. Beaver lets go with subjects and verbs: "He's a beaver," she says. "He shouldn't be saying anything!"
Fifth, Tilda Swinton makes a good White Witch. She brings swift meaning to cold-bloodedness.
Sixth, and finally, the sacrifice of Aslan is superbly wrought. While intense—perhaps too intense for many younger viewers—Adamson's vision of Aslan's willing death is moving to the point of tears. Ditto for Aslan's Gethsemane-like walk with Lucy and Susan prior to his execution.
Ultimately, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a nice adaptation. Not dazzling, not dull—but a pleasant film using 21st-century technology to tell a 20th-century story about a time out of time and place out of place.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG for battle sequences and frightening moments. Reviewer's Note: The scene of Aslan's sacrifice is frightening indeed; be prepared that it may upset younger children.
Director: Andrew Adamson
Writers: Ann Peacock and Andrew Adamson and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based on the book by C.S. Lewis)
Cast: Lucy Pevensie: Georgie Henley; Edmund Pevensie: Skandar Keynes; Peter Pevensie: William Moseley; Susan Pevensie: Anna Popplewell; White Witch: Tilda Swinton; Mr. Tumnus: James McAvoy; Professor Kirke: Jim Broadbent; Voice of Aslan: Liam Neeson; Voice of Mr. Beaver: Ray Winstone; Voice of Mrs. Beaver: Dawn French; Voice of the Fox: Rupert Everett.
The movie's official Web site is here.