The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)

“When Adam’s Flesh and Adam’s bone sits in Cair Paravel in throne, the evil time will be over and done.”

Lissa’s rating: All I ever find in the back of my closet is dirty socks.

Lissa’s review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may appear to be a mainstream movie, but don’t let its big budget, Disney production, and excellent performance at the box office fool you. It’s a total geek movie, just like Lord of the Rings. In fact, most of us who read Lord of the Rings cut our teeth on C. S. Lewis and Narnia. Narnia is the primer of fantasy novels, one of the first books every geek should have read.

It’s also prime fare for a movie adaptation — even better than Lord of the Rings.

I’ve got to say, for all their friendship, C.S. Lewis isn’t nearly as wordy or descriptive as J.R.R. Tolkien. All seven of the Narnia books maybe add up to the first two-thirds of the Lord of the Rings books, but really with no less action. I always preferred Narnia to Middle-earth, but hey — this isn’t exactly a competition here. C.S. Lewis’s lack of verbage is one of the reasons Narnia makes for such great adaptation fare; it’s much easier to adapt such a short novel. Plus, the story just makes for a fantastic movie.

Four children are sent to the British countryside to escape the bombings in London. Peter is responsible and serious, Susan is the same but even more so, Edmund is angry, and Lucy is just darling. Unfortunately, Lucy is too young for anyone to seem to take her seriously, so when she finds a magical land in the back of a wardrobe, her siblings don’t believe her. At least, they don’t until they end up there themselves. And when they do arrive, they find that they are the subject of a prophecy and the future kings and queens of Narnia, if only they can defeat the White Witch. Obviously, they do, with the help of a whole army of talking animals, centaurs, fauns, and other mythical critters, including the lion Aslan.

In addition to having the longest title ever, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is probably the most faithful literary adaptation I have ever seen in my life. (Bear in mind I haven’t yet read the story Brokeback Mountain was based on, although Sue, who’s seen and read both, says that Narnia is the more faithful adaptation.) There were a few minor details left out or changed, but otherwise, the plot is exactly how I remember it from the book I read so long ago. (And yes, have read since.)

This is even more notable given that it’s a Disney production, and Disney is notorious for changing things that might be scary or depressing. Edmund’s entire plotline was left perfectly intact, and the bit with Aslan and the Stone Table? I thought that would be too creepy for Disney, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was wrong — they stayed true to almost every word of it. In fact, the only two things I noticed as changes were that Father Christmas didn’t comment on how battles were uglier when women were involved, and that he didn’t bring the Beavers anything. If I’m resorting to picking on tiny things like that, it’s a very good adaptation indeed.

The movie was gorgeous: rich scenery and costumes, just the right amount of fantastical, and some of the animals were very well done (Aslan and the Beavers in particular). The effects weren’t of Lord of the Rings caliber — you could see blue screens and some of the more minor animals looked a bit… hokey. But that’s fine. What really impressed me was the acting.

Normally, I’m indifferent to child actors at best, and they drive me insane at worst. That was one of the things that made Narnia touch and go, I think… the story rests on child actors. And the hardest parts — Lucy and Edmund (especially Edmund) — are the two youngest children. William Moseley and Anna Popplewell (who played Peter and Susan respectively) both did a good job, and Georgie Henley (Lucy) was absolutely darling, but I was very impressed with Skandar Keynes, who played Edmund. Edmund is easily the most complicated of the four children. He truly has a dark side and a lot of anger and some nasty traits, but he’s essentially a good kid. Keynes walked the line very, very well, and his performance as Edmund was neither apologetic nor over-dark. James McAvoy was very good as Mr. Tumnus as well, and whoever cast Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan? That was a move up there with casting Alan Rickman as Professor Snape.

The other thing that actually sticks out to me was the score. Dramatic and lush, and I particularly liked the bit right before the battle, and then the way there was no music for the battle. It underlined the true nature of war quite well, while the actual music highlighted the fantasy aspect.

I’ve seen a lot of people comment on the religious aspect, because one of the few things they know if they haven’t read the Narnia series is that it’s a Christian allegory. Definitely a Christian allegory, and if you know the first thing about the New Testament the symbolism is really easy to pick up on. Okay, so the symbolism isn’t so much “easy to pick up on” as “hits you over the head,” but it’s not preachy. More like it’s just really, really, really, really, really, really, really obvious. But not overbearing. Just thought I’d comment.

I’m trying to think of a criticism, but honestly? Except for the bit about some of the effects not being as absolutely brilliant as Lord of the Rings fans could want, which frankly, I didn’t care, I really thought the movie was incredibly well done. Nice and tight, not much left out, not much added in, true to the book, well acted, beautiful to look at. I’m glad I finally saw this one.

Justin’s rating: I’m not a tame reviewer…

Justin’s review: Here are a few words sure to drive dread straight into the reader’s heart: “The book that this movie is based off of is near and dear to me, one of my life-long favorites and a cherished memory.” There. Now I’ve set you up for an entire review where I’ll become some sort of demented, slavish nit-picker, endlessly cross-comparing between the superior book and the inferior movie adaption, while you sit there squirming in the crossfire that I create. Ha!

Actually, I’m a huge proponent of letting a movie stand on its own efforts and judging it thusly; as Stephen King once said, “Anyone who says that the movies have ruined my stories need only to go over to the bookshelf – the stories are still there, preserved perfectly.” But I also think there’s merit in looking into the source material for a film, as either a measuring stick or for further understanding.

As a child, my father used to read to me and my brothers every night before bed — a tradition I continued with my own four children. The seven-book series Chronicles of Narnia were our unabashed favorite of the group, and I still have most of the original copies that my dad used to read from. We understood that the books were fantasy stories first, but also containing Christian messages; as I grew up, my appreciation and understanding of both the fantasy and biblical sides of Narnia only grew.

C.S. Lewis wrote the first book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, for his goddaughter, with the intention of answering the question, “What if Jesus came into another world, a fantasy world, in order to save that world as well?” He blended his love of various mythologies — Greek, Roman, Norse in particular — in with Biblical themes, to create an imaginative storyland that was as accessible and fun for children as it would be for adults.

Cutting through a lot more lead-up material because I’m long-winded enough, thank you, we get to the third movie adaption of this book — the first a cartoon in the ’70s, the second a cheesy live-action production in the ’80s — and Walt Disney’s search for a Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings franchise that could give the studio a huge boost. They roped in Shrek director Andrew Adamson and Weta Workshop, and here we are. Big budget Narnia, for both the secular audience and the Christian fans. How’d it do?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Narnia books, it wouldn’t be too hard to pick them up and start thumbing through them (please read them in the original publishing order, however, as the newer “chronological” version dulls some of the surprises in the series). They’re slim children’s reading material with surprising density.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe starts with four children in the 1940s who discover that an ordinary wardrobe has the ability to transport them to another world. This is the world of Narnia, where beasts talk, myths walk, and an evil White Witch has made the world always winter, never summer. The four children discover that they’re the only humans (“sons of Adam and daughters of Eve”) in the world, and it’s been prophesied that their presence would overturn the White Witch’s rule. The only (major) problem is that Edmund, one of the brothers, goes rogue on the group early on, betraying them all to the Witch and effectively taking her side.

It’s in this hour that the children learn that “Aslan is on the move.” Aslan, the Christ-figure of Narnia, is a giant talking lion who helped to create the world and, hopefully, to save it. His presence ushers in the first spring that Narnia’s seen in over 100 years, and a battle between the remaining forces of good in Narnia and the White Witch’s army are not far off.

Divorcing myself from the book for a few minutes, I must say that they’ve made LWW into a good — even great — flick. The transition from WWII London (the opening scenes are spectacular) to fairy tale land Narnia works instead of jars, and we get to explore a land full of wonder and magic. A lot rests on the shoulders of four child actors, all of whom (particularly little Lucy) do a terrific job holding up under the pressure. Yeah, it’s pretty weird to see a land full of beasts and creatures submit themselves to the leadership of tiny beings who haven’t yet gone through puberty, but such is the joy for children in watching such movies (“We Can Be Heroes Too!”). There’s a load of laughs and moments that just feel real, such as the bickering Beaver couple or the squabbles between the children, but there’s also a real and present threat going on, with the evilest witch in the land going berserk with swords and a petrifying wand. The more bloodthirsty adult in me regrets that they pulled their punches in the battles (cutting away from the death blow, etc.), but here’s a children’s fantasy film that’s more acceptable than, say, the ever-darker Goblet of Fire.

The problem for Disney and Adamson is that the Narnia books are religious, and strong religion of nearly any sort is so taboo in Hollywood that it makes even studio execs piddle their pants to think about it. Thus, we get a spectacular tightrope-walking exhibit; let’s make the movie just religious enough to placate Lewis’ Christian readers, but dull down the sharper points of applied theology so it doesn’t snag any mainstream audience member away from seeing it.

It’s been almost hilarious to watch Adamson and the actors in interviews dance around the Christian themes of this while still claiming to be overly faithful to the book. Listen, it’s not that faithful. Yes, the story moves forward much the same, but the key lines and characteristics of, say, Aslan and the White Witch have been removed, toned down or changed altogether to nudge the story in more of a generic fantasy vein. They’re not gone altogether, but aspects such as the Witch’s dreadful fear of Aslan are strangely absent, as is Aslan’s supernatural majesty and awe. The director missed the point by trying to focus on the four children as the heroes; in the book, Aslan is the true hero. Narnia, like Lord of the Rings, didn’t have to be line-for-line similar to the books, but at least they could’ve made an acknowledgement to what the author intended and worked hard to capture the spirit of it all, instead of the spirit of some.

Instead of being outraged at the namby-pamby way Disney went about this project, I’m just a little sad. Hollywood just doesn’t get it, that a majority of people will watch and respect movies with strong, clear messages even if they don’t agree with them, versus the kind of distaste we’ve developed for an ever-constant stream of “By God, let’s don’t dare offend anybody by doing anything other than making a big fireball now and then!” filmmaking. Realistically, I know whatever gob of cash they spent on this would’ve been a huge risk to include something so overtly Christian… but it simply is Christian, Lewis’ vision, and a slight dishonor to his memory that even in the enlightened year of 2005, we’re still cringing away from saying anything of substance out of fear of ever ticking off somebody.

That’s well enough of that. I want to reiterate – I liked this film. It’s a terrific first endeavor, and I truly hope with a little note put into my hope locket and stored in my hope chest, that it prompts Disney to make the other six books with equal or better skill.

Didja notice?

  • Mothballs in the wardrobe. Naphthalene!
  • Mr. Tunmus must be freezing.
  • The actress who played the older Lucy actually looked like the younger Lucy. Advantages of siblings!
  • Very, very cool crowns, including the White Witch’s.
  • Liam Neeson really was a perfect choice for Aslan.
  • When the Pevensies are at the train station, Peter looks at a soldier. That soldier is played by Jaxin Hall, the runner-up who auditioned for the part of Peter and lost to William Moseley.
  • The only real lion that appears in the film is the very first shot of Aslan coming out of the tent.
  • Rachael Henley, who plays the grown-up Lucy in the hunting scene near the end of the film, is actually the older sister of Georgie Henley, who plays the young Lucy throughout the rest of the movie.

One comment

  1. The BBC adaptation from the 1980s is a prime example of the dangers of sticking too close to the source material. It was made even worse thanks to the hammy performance by the actress they had for the White Witch. Tilda Swinton was a massive improvement.

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