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

directed by Andrew Adamson
(Walt Disney, 2005)

They aimed for greatness ... and I think they hit that target.

During the bombing of London in World War II, four children are sent to the countryside by their mother to live with the Professor on his vast estate. Bored, and having been told by the strict housekeeper not to bother the Professor, the quartet plays games to occupy themselves. During a game of hide-and-seek, the youngest of the siblings, Lucy, hides in an old wooden wardrobe -- and steps into Narnia, a wondrous world populated by fauns, giants, minotaurs, centaurs, satyrs, a witch, a talking lion and many, many other creatures out of myth and legend. Narnia is also on the brink of war, with the evil White Witch seeking dominion over Aslan, the lion, who rules righteously. And, the arrival of Lucy, along with siblings, Peter, Susan and Edmund, fulfills a prophecy that foretells that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve will arrive and decide Narnia's fate.

I thought that the makers of the Harry Potter films had done a good job finding talented young actors and actresses, but this film might just surpass that series with the performances of the four leads. Georgie Hensley is excellent as the bright, curious, adventurous, emotional Lucy, who starts the movie as a scared little girl and ends as the heart of the quartet. William Moseley is Peter, the eldest, who starts off as the somewhat-bullying, overly-serious Head of the Family, and ends up becoming as much of a lion as Aslan. Anna Popplewell is Susan, the intelligent, mature, somewhat bossy older girl, who evolves into the thinker, the guide, the clever counselor of the bunch. Skandar Keynes, though, shines the most for me. As Edmund, he starts off as the annoying, mischievous, daring, frightened, gullible troublemaker and ends up catching up to, and sometimes even surpassing, his over-achieving siblings. And, while these young actors are putting on these great performances, they are also totally credible as just kids. The one sad note might be that, as Keynes grew so much during the filming of this first film, they had to adjust camera angles to hide it; he might physically outgrow the role.

Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan? No better choice. Period. Tilda Swinton as the White Witch is one, mean, cruel, coldblooded, treacherous, iron-fisted would-be queen. She is the essence of nightmares. James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus epitomizes the Loyal Friend incarnate. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French, are welcome in my neighborhood any day. Rupert Everett as the sly, good-at-heart fox, who outfoxes himself for the sake of the children, hits just the right "I'm on your side, but can you trust me?" tone. Sim Evan-Jones is perfectly menacing as the wolf.

As for the special effects, wow! The Beavers are not only engaging, but they rival Gollum of The Lord of the Rings and Dobby of Harry Potter as marvels of computer-generated imagery.

The film was shot mainly in New Zealand. Enough said about the scenery. The score by Harry Gregson-Williams beautifully enhances the story without ever overwhelming it.

The plethora of bonus features on the collector's edition DVD include the making of the movie, the creating of the creatures, a tour of Narnia, the director's journal, bloopers, the story of C.S. Lewis and, best of all, a spirited study of the children as they worked, for months, on this film, and came to work as a true team. I could not help but smile to see them, between scenes, doing their little song-and-dance routine.

Prepare to gasp: I have never read the Narnia novels. When I first heard of them, I interpreted "wardrobe" in the more contemporary sense, of a collection of women's clothing, and mistakenly assumed that the books were aimed more at girls. There is plenty here for boys (of all ages above 8, I'd say) to enjoy.

Caution: I expected a film on a par with The Wizard of Oz as far as the target audience's age-range goes, but it is not that. The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe is almost as violent, at times, as The Lord of the Rings. For some children, the White Witch's cruelty, the abuse of the fox by the wolves and the battle scenes might cause nightmares.

by Chris McCallister
8 April 2006

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