For anyone who has walked into a wardrobe in hopes of finding Narnia, and for those who have yet to discover this enchanting possibility, this latest film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be a treat. With the same care that Walt Disney and Walden Media used with Louis SacherÃ¢Â€Â™s Holes, they have created a faithful adaptation of another, if much older, classic
The story itself is exciting, magical and surprisingly uncomplicated. Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD. It follows the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who walk through a wardrobe and find themselves in Narnia, a land where they are destined to rule as kings and queens. Currently under the control of the White Witch, in Narnia Ã¢Â€ÂœÃ¢Â€Â¦it is always winter but never Christmas.Ã¢Â€Â Narnia is inhabited by mythical creatures such as fauns, centaurs, tree nymphs and talking beasts all of whom are excited by the rumor that Ã¢Â€ÂœAslan is on the moveÃ¢Â€Â. Though mistakes are made along the way, the children and beasts work together to see that good triumphs over evil so that everyone in Narnia can live at peace with the full range of yearly seasons.
This film sticks fairly close to the book, keeping in all the important and favorite scenes. Being a relatively short novel, some welcome embellishment was added. The movie starts with a World War II air raid on London, giving an opportunity to present key character traits of the children and offering an explanation as to why they end up living in a mansion in the English countryside. It also sets up the dilemma faced by both Susan and Peter (the eldest) about getting involved in a war in Narnia, when they are trying to escape one at home. There is also a scene in which the children are trying to cross a dangerous river. It is the first of several tests of bravery and good sense which Peter must face on the road to becoming the High King. These are just two examples of how the filmmakers bring a little more insight into the story.
The acting throughout this film is superb, especially among the 4 children. Lucy, the youngest, is perfectly cute and sweet, but in no way cloying. Edmund is completely annoying and rotten in the beginning and yet is so believably happy at the end that it is so easy to forgive him. SusanÃ¢Â€Â™s character is given much more dimension here than in the book. She is not only motherly, but intelligent and questioning. There is even a bit of foreshadowing regarding her role in later books, when she often comments about wanting to be safely back at home. Peter has at once the most common and the most complicated role. There are many stories of an ordinary man who must become a leader, and this actor brings freshness and honesty to PeterÃ¢Â€Â™s emotional transformation from big brother to High King.
Many well known British actors fill out the rest of the cast. As the White Witch Tildon Swinton is cold, commanding, and at times, just this side of sensual. Her greatest feat, however, is in dealing with her costume. The large and stiff dress looked as though it were made of paper-mache and prevented the actress from comfortably keeping her arms at her side. Liam Neeson, of course, was perfectly cast as Aslan, the noble Lion. His presence itself brings comfort to any film. The CGI lion, however, left something to be desired. CGI will never truly work until the technicians become actors and put emotions into their animation. Rupert Everett is completely charming as the double-agent fox. Dawn French as Mrs. Beaver is lovely as she welcomed the children and bantered with Mr. Beaver. The Professor, played with wisdom by Jim Broadbent who has just the right glint in his eye to hint at things to come.
The only casting choice that didnÃ¢Â€Â™t seem quite right was with Mr. Tumnus. The young man is a brilliant actor to be sure and certainly embodied the role a faun. Mr. Tumnus is the first citizen of Narnia that Lucy meets and the two become fast friends. As he is 100 years old, he should be played by an older man, preferably dressed in a tweed jacket. But this is a young man, bare-chested except for a bright red scarf. He invites Lucy to tea and parents may feel the urge to scream for Lucy not to go. The moment he confesses he is kidnapping Lucy, is utterly terrifying. As he utters the famous line Ã¢Â€ÂœÃ¢Â€Â¦ heÃ¢Â€Â™s not a tame lion, you knowÃ¢Â€Â at the end of the film, the look he gives Lucy as they hold hands is no less creepy.
When watching the set-up for the great battle, one might be apprehensive. It looks as though it will be yet another Weta CGI extravaganza reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings. The sequence of hundreds of minotaurs and hags vs. hundreds of centaurs and fauns is kept mercifully short. The costumes are very colorful and the sky sunny and blue. Watch out, however for the occasional view of a disgusting orc.
Be careful of the final confrontation between Aslan and the White Witch. The battle is over; she is defeated and wounded. Aslan looks down at the Witch and her eyes grow wide with fright. The director should have stopped there; the overwhelming goodness of Narnia and Aslan being the cause of her death. But in one horrible image, the screen is filled with AslanÃ¢Â€Â™s enraged head, jaws wide in attack. What can only be assumed is that he either bites her head off, or slits her throat. Either way, it is a gruesome thought. Aslan is better than that.
Much has been said about the underlying religious themes of C.S. LewisÃ¢Â€Â™ story. In this film as in the books, they are there if one looks for them. But then, it is true of many stories that a deeper meaning is present. The film is not overly Christian and in fact, takes great pains to avoid it. When the children receive gifts from a kindly, bearded old man in a sleigh, they address him only as Ã¢Â€ÂœsirÃ¢Â€Â. Even the manÃ¢Â€Â™s costume is not festive, but rather bohemian.
Comparisons may also be made to past films of the Chronicles of Narnia, but to say one is better than another is difficult to do. C.S. Lewis created a world so compelling, so irresistible, and so positive, that print, celluloid or digital, it is hard to go wrong.
And it is always good to be reminded that a whole, wonderful world might just be waiting for us behind a closed
door, if only we have the faith to open it.