Directed by: Andrew Adamson
Starring: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Liam Neeson (voice), Tilda Swinton.
Rated: PG for battle sequences and frightening moments.
Parental Notes: Although the violence in the film is not graphic, there are many frightening moments (the bombing of London, battles between armies, the children are chased by wolves, etc.) and the battle sequences are sweeping and intense. This film will likely enchant older children, but preschoolers and Kindergarteners may find it too scary.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are widely considered to be classic volumes of children’s fantasy literature. “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” was the first book published in the popular series, and it is now a film from Disney featuring a number of live actors and countless computer-created mythical beings. It stays true to what this reviewer remembers of the book (which, it must be confessed, was last read well over a decade ago) and is thoroughly impressive from both visual and storytelling standpoints.
The heroes of the tale are four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley respectively). They are sent out of London for their own safety when repeated bombings during the first World War put them in danger. They find themselves living in a huge old house owned by the reclusive Professor (Jim Broadbent). Lucy discovers an old wardrobe which serves as a portal to Narnia, a world of mythical creatures populated by talking animals. The other children don’t believe Lucy’s tales at first, but when they use the wardrobe to hide from the Professor’s housekeeper they all wind up in Narnia.
Narnia is in a century-long winter imposed by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). The siblings learn that they are apparently the four humans foretold by a prophecy, and are destined to help Aslan (voice by Liam Neeson), the lion who is true ruler of Narnia, overthrow the Witch. They are reluctant to help until Edmund is captured and the only way to save him seems to be to side with Aslan and his army of fauns, centaurs, and wild animals.
Any film adapted from a children’s fantasy novel faces the challenges of child actors, a well-known book-length storyline, and realizing fantastical creatures. Director Andrew Adamson has risen to the challenge, and all three issues are handled well. The four main actors do their jobs wonderfully. Henley in particular is very good — doubly so when you consider that she was eight years old during filming. Their characters are not terribly complex, it is true, but one does not have to look far to find examples of agonizing performances from children in other films.
The storyline has been well-adapted to the film. It includes all the incidents that I remember from reading the novel as a child, and is thoroughly engaging. Although the decision of the children to stay in Narnia and fight for Aslan is set up a little poorly, this is, after all, a fairy tale. The action sequences (battles, chases, and tense face-offs between heroes and villains) are interwoven with the exposition so that neither seems forced and the film’s pacing is just right, and that is what matters most.
The action sequences are mind-boggling, and it is no surprise to see WETA Workshop, the special effects studio which created the effects for “The Lord of the Rings,” in the credits. Aslan is absolutely stunning, and although at times he betrays the tell-tale unreality of CGI for the most part it is easy to forget he is a computer creation and relate to him as a character. Some of the background creatures in the film occasionally look artificial, but the film is overwhelmingly impressive in visual terms. Backgrounds, creatures, costumes, props — all are wonderfully designed and draw the audience into the film.
“The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” is a terrific family film. While it may be a little too intense for the pre-school set (although the battles aren’t graphic, they are frightening), it will no doubt evoke nostalgia for grown-up fans of the novels and sheer wonder for adults and children alike.