Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" *** (out of ****)

In preparation for the release of the latest "The Chronicles of Narnia" adventure, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (2010) I have decided it is about time I watch the other films in the series so when I see "Dawn Treader" I'll know what is going on.

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005) is the most popular book in author C.S. Lewis' series of Narnia stories. Since its release both the book and all of its adaptations were seen as religious allegories. In fact a lot of critics condemned this movie because they felt the film became too much of a religious parable. As one might expect, I disagree with that sentiment.

The first thing which struck me as I watched "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is the tone of the film. The movie lacks the magic of say "Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001). That movie told its story with fascination and joy. It took great pleasure in introducing us to the world of Hogwarts and its characters. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", which takes us to a world just as spectacular, doesn't tell its story with such fever delight. It is more somber and doesn't seem to be trying to "wow" us.

The movie takes place sometime in the 1940s in London. We open with an air raid. Bombs are dropping everywhere as our four young heroes; Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skander Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley) seek shelter. We learn their father is a soldier fighting in the war. They are left with their mother, who is afraid she is unable to take care of them properly. She sends them off to the countryside to live with Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). It is in the professor's home the children discover the world of Narnia as they enter it through a wardrobe closet in an empty bedroom.

Though the movie does have some religious undertones what I came away with most watching the film is a story similar to that of the Spanish film "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006). Both are stories of children who use their imagination to help them escape the grim realities of life. Here it is the war years in Britain. The children worry about their father and are away from their mother. How will this war further affect their lives? So, to help shield them from the real world the children create an escape, where there is an equally high amount of danger, but it helps them take their mind off of the true horrors which are outside their door.

Or at least that's what I think "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is all about. But what if Narnia is a real place? That's what Prof. Kirke thinks when he hears the children speak of a secret world which is hidden in one of his wardrobe closets.

When the children arrive in Narnia they discover a world where it is always winter but never Christmas, to little Lucy's major disappointment (no presents!). It has been this way for 100 years. Narnia is now ruled by the White Queen (Tilda Swinton). But there is a prophecy which speaks of four saviours who will come and restore order to Narnia. Two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam. In other words, four humans. These children along with the help of a brave and wise lion, Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) will fight the White Queen in an epic battle of good and evil.

Actually the set-up here is no different than any western. An unwelcome stranger rides into town to discover the town is under the rule of some bad bandits and it is up to our unknown stranger to protect the village. The children are our strangers who ride into town (AKA Narnia), the bandit is the White Queen and along with the help of the sheriff (Aslan) the strangers will fight the bad guys.

The world of Narnia is filled with talking animals like a beaver (voice of Ray Winston) and a faun, Tumnus (James McAvoy) and centaurs, not to mention that talking lion.

But as I say, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" doesn't allow us to pause in wonderment and digest this world. The viewer doesn't truly feel they are witnessing something magical. Or at least I didn't. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" seems too preoccupied with its story and religious aspects.

The biggest religious allegory here is the character of Aslan, who is almost a Jesus Christ-like character.


He offers his own life to protect one of the children, who has committed a crime in the world of Narnia. But like a Christ like figure, he rises from the dead.


The religious undertones though I felt were very subtle and didn't overpower the story. And I say this as someone who went to Catholic school for six years.

The film was directed by Andrew Adamson, who directed "Shrek" (2001) and "Shrek 2" (2004). Adamson would also go on to direct the second "Chronicles of Narnia" adventure, "Prince Caspian" (2008). The screenplay was written by an unusual group of writers; Ann Peacock, who wrote the John Booreman film "In My Country" (2004) and the team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the men behind "You Kill Me" (2007). Nothing about those films, which are all worth seeing, would suggest these people would be a good choice to adapt Lewis' story. And I'm happy to say I find "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" much more suitable for children when compared to "Shrek", which I've reviewed and find inappropriate for children.

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was also nominated for three Academy Awards and won one for its make-up. It was such a box-office success that of course two more sequels have been made. If this latest film does well at the box-office it has been suggested Lewis' entire series will be adapted to screen.

Overall I like "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". I'm now looking forward to seeing "Prince Caspian".