© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson (voice)
Director: Andrew Adamson
Writers: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (based on novel by C.S. Lewis)
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG for battle sequences and frightening moments
Running Time: 140 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.5 out of 10
It’s only a matter of time before C.S. Lewis’s beloved The Chronicles of Narnia arrives on the big screen (despite earlier TV adaptations). After the phenomenal success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Narnia seems like a perfect destination next to Middle Earth.
At the height of WWII, the Pevensie children -- Peter (Moseley), Susan (Popplewell), Edmund (Keynes) and Lucy (Henley) -- are sent to a country mansion owned by eccentric Professor Kirke (Broadbent). Missing their mother, the bored children play a game of hide-and-seek and little Lucy discovers a wardrobe that leads her to a winter wonderland called Narnia. There, she meets a faun, Mr. Tumnus (McAvoy), who warns her of the White Witch (Swinton) who has bestowed winter on Narnia for the past 100 years. Edmund follows Lucy to Narnia, and is promptly seduced by the White Witch’s magic and sweet treats. She asks Edmund to bring his siblings to her.
Soon, the four children found Narnia again, and are promptly hunted by the White Witch and her wolves. Helped by a group of talking animals, they escape and are on their way to find Aslan the King (Neeson), who returns to Narnia to fulfill a prophecy. Little do the children know that they’re part of the prophecy. Soon, the White Witch declares war on Narnia and Aslan, and the children must rise to the occasion and help defeat her and bring freedom to Narnia.
Writer-director Adamson (SHREK 2) had the difficult job of making the fantastic elements and characters of NARNIA come alive in this adaptation. Not to mention the inevitable comparison to Peter Jackson’s hugely successful THE LORD OF THE RINGS series. In a way, it’s not fair to compare the two. NARNIA is an allegorical children’s fantasy, with cute talking animals and straightforward “good vs. evil” messages. NARNIA feels smaller and simpler, yet equally magical. Adamson succeeded in transporting us to a fantastic world and expanding our imagination. Besides the grand, epic cinematic moments, there are quiet, sweet moments that are just as affecting -- for example, Lucy and Mr. Tumnus have a wonderful scene together by the fireplace.
Not to say there are no shortcomings. At 140 minutes, the film feels a bit too long. It drags at places, and the character development is somewhat lacking. For example, Edmund’s betrayal seems forced; we’re led to believe why Edmund betrays his sibling, but I’m not convinced. Next to HARRY POTTER, the story seems a bit too old fashioned and slow. Also, throughout the film and especially at the end, the children never seem to miss their family. That makes the children seem callous.
Despite the presence of some veteran actors such as Broadbent (ROBOTS) in minor roles, the film rests heavily on the four young, mostly-unknown actors. They all do a good job, especially Henley who plays Lucy. She has an expressive sweetness that is both convincing and touching. Popplewell (GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING) is the most experienced actor of the four, and she’s done a good job as Susan, the sensible one. The boys are good, too, but the girls definitely steal the show. Neeson (BATMAN BEGINS) is majestic as the voice of Aslan, and Swinton (BROKEN FLOWER) is coldly evil as the White Witch (although the character, in my opinion, could hardly qualify as the most terrifying villain of all times).
There’s no denying that C.S. Lewis’s story is a Christian allegory. All the clues are there, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure them out. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy the timeless tale of good vs. evil and salvation. The special effects are very well done. The talking animals, especially the beavers and Aslan the Lion King, are impressive. The centaurs and satyrs and griffins are fantastic. I am, however, surprised by the PG rating. The film is way too frightening and brutal for children, especially when kids are depicted as armor-donning, sword-wielding warriors who slay their enemies in bloody battles. While the cuddly animals and magical elements might enchant the littler ones, the film is way too violent for most children. With that in mind, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA is a decent fantasy film for the entire family to enjoy.