The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by Alex Stroup, staff writer

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media release. Wide theatrical release: Friday, December 9
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely
Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, and Liam Neeson
Rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments
Running time: 140 minutes
Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10

It is a rule of thumb that screenplays translate to film at a rate of about one page per minute. This should make it clear why adapting a 600 page Harry Potter book is an exercise in elision. So it must have been with some glee that Ann Peacock and others were set loose on adapting C.S. Lewis' simply written novel of only 90 pages or so. The result is that fans of the 1950 book will find that it has essentially been translated in its entirety with room left over for visual flourishes and expansions.

The story in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is pretty simple. Four English children are evacauated to a rural estate from London during World War II. Through a magical wardrobe they find themselves in the land of Narnia where animals talk, mythical beasts exist, an evil White Queen keep everything in perpetual winter, and prophecy says these four children will save and rule the land. And the good guys are led by a wise talking lion names Aslan.

© Disney/Walden.

Director Andrew Adamson, who came up through visual effects and had his greatest success directing both Shrek movies, is in his element here. Though live action, the world of Narnia is a place requiring the best in computer effects and, with a few slips here and there, the best is what we get—though part of the genius in its making is that the film does not rely simply on overwhelming us with incredible computer pictures.

The idea of simply believing is an important one in the film and it is true for the audience as well. Beyond the pretty pictures we need to believe is six things: Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Jadis (the White Queen), and Aslan. If any of these characters fail to connect, the entire movie will collapse under its own weight, and since only Jadis gets to rely simply on an adult actor this is by no means a sure thing.

With the four children you'll never quite forget that you're watching children act, but they all do at least a good job. Suprisingly, the weakest of the four is William Moseley as Peter, the oldest of the group. He simply remains too much of a blank slate as he grows into the role of leadership that Aslan assures him is his fate. Anna Popplewell as Susan is saddled with the least to do, but she also gets to act most like a real child might in these situations.

© Disney/Walden.

Skandar Keynes's Edmund has the strongest character arc of betrayal and redemption. It is perhaps odd that such an arc could be carried through by simple childish petulance, but it carries the weight of reality in that so many of the misdeeds of children spring not from malice but from wounded pride.

The true surprise among the foursome is the 9-year-old Georgie Henley as Lucy, the youngest of the group and the first to find Narnia. Hers may be a face to keep an eye out for. She doesn't come across with the adult acting chops of Haley Joel Osment or Dakota Fanning, but she does have the easy childish presence that saw Macauley Culkin and Drew Barrymore through their child-actor years. She's cute without trying to look cute and does a good job of touching the emotional notes required of her.

Henley would be the best thing about the movie if it weren't for Tilda Swinton coming onscreen and sweeping everything else aside. Swinton's White Witch is evil, but she is also restrained and never strays over into cartoonish menace. She doesn't need to bluster about her power or evil intent. She is menacing not so much through overt act (though she is not shy at dishing out punishment) as through simple confidence in her right to rule over all that she sees. If The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is hugely successful and taken seriously as a movie, it is easy to envision talk of a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Swinton.

Finally, the moral center of the movie is embodied in a large talking lion. Trying to sell that is not an enviable position but Aslan is a solid force in the movie. Most of the time it is impossible to tell if anything on the lion other than the eyes and talking mouth have been manipulated with computers. Other than the talking, Aslan is in every other way a lion and has not been further anthropomorphized. Voiced with quiet intensity by Liam Neeson (one of the few prominent actors chosen for the voice roles), all but the most fantasy-resistant viewers will have no problem accepting Aslan as the savior all Narnians worship him as.

Mentioning worship brings us to the question a lot of people have been asking: have the Christian (and New Testament, particularly) parallels been diluted for the movie? Different people read the source book in different ways. Some feel that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is parable for exposing children to some of the fundamental ideas of Christian faith, while others simply see it as using elements of Christian mythology (as well as other mythologies) to tell a cute story that expresses universal themes.

I'm certainly not in a position to settle that debate, but it can safely be said that the same readings can all be carried into the new movie and people will find it in that which they want. There is no underplaying of the scenes of rebirth, redemption, or calls for simple faith.

This movie should mesmerize almost any child who sees it and it is sure to be an instant classic. The only fault is that at a little over two hours, some of the youngest may find it too much of a strain on attention span. The movie definitely earns its PG rating with the violence in the final confrontation beween the armies of Aslan and the White Witch.

Some adults may be immune to its charms, finding its very literalness and earnestness offputting and maybe even uncomfortable in this ironic age. It is hard to imagine this group being very large, however, and the film should appeal to almost any viewer.

It seems an inevitability that if successful, Walden Media and Disney will look to begin transferring the other six Narnia stories to film. It is safe to say that this film will be hugely successful, and now fan speculation can move to what order they'll make them in.

A Parents Perspective - Plot Spoilers Ahead

by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

Will kids like Narnia? It depends on the age and temperament of your children. The film is appropriately rated PG. There is no blood or gore in Narnia, but tense scenes aplenty. Kids under six may become frightened at the scary creatures, battle scenes, and very realistic talking wolf pack. Alsan is killed by the White Witch in a very intense scene, and Edmond is stabbed (still, no blood.) All is made right in the end, but even my 11 year old, who has read the book, was gripping my hand tightly during most of the movie. During the scenes with little action and a lot of dialogue, young children in the audience were restless; totally uninterested in the dilemmas of the children onscreen. A very young child sitting behind me kept asking "what happened to the king of beasts?" and ignored the rest of the film.

Overall, a great film for older children, kids who have read and understand the book, and kids who can handle intense scenes.