The new one is out on DVD – Prince something or other – so why not revisit my DisneyFamily.com review? Starting… NOW! I used to turn up my nose at Professor Tolkien’s best friend’s works. CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia’ looked too kiddy for me. I finally did read it last year and thought to myself: “Good, but clearly better for kids that age.”
Well, hot on the heels and clearly inspired by twin cinematic monoliths, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the bespectacled Harry Potter series – Oh, inspired by the success of Passion of the Christ too, I think – comes quite a mouthful: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe. It’s a good idea. Narnia is eminently kid-friendly, idealistic, and sitting smack dab in the middle of it is a Christian allegory that’s very respectful to a certain holiday story and rare in films these days.
So, the Passion showed how hungry audiences are for a little spirituality, Potter showed that tweens want movies aimed at them too, and with Lord of the Rings, Jackson proved you can translate the untranslatable, and it helps if you make sure what’s on the screen matches what’s in reader’s heads. Jackson did this by hiring the people who made the most memorable Tolkien artwork, and I have to assume the team behind Narnia did the same thing.
Why? It looks exactly right. ITurns out the images CS Lewis glossed over or withheld description from (in the book, he uses very few words to describe the book’s epic clash between good and evil and the series is saddled with the type of clunky narrator common for kid lit at that time) comes to life on the screen with the vibrancy and realism that matches, and then supercedes, whatever the most ardent fan of the books has in their head.
At times this works brilliantly. The images and wonder of little Lucy’s first excursion through the Wardrobe, the snow, the gaslight, and the faun wearing the scarf and holding an umbrella are instantly enchanting. As are the actors. There isn’t a weak performance in this film. All the kids are wonderful at bringing their characters to life and at impersonating British children during the infamous blitz. The aforementioned Faun, Mr. Tumnus, hits every note perfectly and there’s really nothing more to be said about Tilda Swinton’s Witch then… wow. She’s cold and cruel, yet you understand her charisma. Her power. She’s a worthy adversary to Liam Neeson’s regal Lion, Aslan.
Without spoiling anything, let me say that Christians are going to be pleased with the all-important allegory portion. It’s a bit graphic for kids, mainly because it’s a difficult concept to grasp and the movie doesn’t actually do a very good job explaining why sacrifice is necessary and, more importantly, why the witch’s plot is foiled. But it’s done with grace and class.
With a charming story, a terrific script, excellent pacing, and a living breathing vision of Narnia that Mr. Lewis himself would likely be hard pressed to criticize, you have a film that’s (mostly) safe for tweens and teens, and for parents alike. So yes, I actually do think this is better than the book and yes, I’m glad Lewis wrote a few more books for these talented people to adapt.
KID FACTOR: There are two concerns for parents to think about. The first is a bit surprising. In a film with this much kid appeal, it’s odd to find a movie this violent. There’s no blood ﾖ even the central allegory sequence isn’t as disturbing as it could have been ﾖ but the war scenes are shockingly violent with a choreography more at home in Lord of the Ring’s final battle. So younger kids should probably be kept away for a while, unless they’re already used to onscreen combat.
The other concern is aimed at parents of older, or cooler, kids. If you son or daughter has reached that precious age where they not only disdain but actively hate “kid stuff” then no amount of shocking violence in the war scenes are going to win them over. This is still a movie where animals talk, where good and evil are the shallowest of black and white constructs, and where Father Christmas acts as a McGuffin, rewarding four young kids with the weapons and armor they need for war. If their eyes haven’t rolled out of their heads by the time we see these children acting like adults in shining armor … well, maybe there’s hope for them.
Suffice it to say this movie hits a sweet spot and is best for fans of the book, fans of idealistic/simplistic fantasy, Christians, adults who nuture their inner children, and kids at that all-too-brief “innocent yet not a child” stage.
This review was originally published by DisneyFamily.com and FamilyFun.com it is reprinted here with permission.