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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2005 - PG - 140 min. Mins.
Director: Andrew Adamson
Producer: Andrew Adamson, Perry Moore
Written By: Andrew Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and C.S. Lewis (novel)
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson (voice), Ray Winstone (voice)
Review by: Ben Samara
Official Site: www.narnia.com
   
When Andrew Adamson was chosen to co-write and direct the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,’ he had to know what he was undertaking. The bar for fantasy films has been pushed through the roof in recent years, with Peter Jackson’s immensely successful ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and the latest ‘Harry Potter’ film leading the charge. This particular ‘Narnia’ story has also been done in the past, before the major advances in special effects swept the film industry. In a 1980s TV miniseries by the same name, the talking animals of Narnia were actually played by live actors in costumes. Yes, it was as corny as it sounds.

This time around, the story of ‘Narnia’ is told in sweeping fashion by Adamson, who gets nearly every aspect of the film right. The director of the ‘Shrek’ movies is making his live-action debut, but it’s a smooth transition. This is in large part because half of the movie consists of animated visual effects shots, well within Adamson’s comfort zone. He and the effects team at WETA have created a magical land that children will adore and adults should enjoy as well. However, if you’re unable to let go of your inhibitions and allow ‘Narnia’ to take you back to your childhood, you’re in for a long ride.

The story of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ follows four siblings who are sent away from their London home for protection during World War II. Their refuge is the enormous house of an eccentric professor. During a game of hide and seek, the youngest child, Lucy (Georgie Henley), stumbles upon a mysterious wardrobe that leads to a magical land called Narnia. She soon learns that the land is ruled by the malicious White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who has cast upon it a never-ending winter.

Naturally, Lucy’s sister and brothers don’t believe her story at first, but soon they are all transported to this magical land. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, they are drawn deeper and deeper into this world until there is no turning back. In order to defeat the White Witch and free Narnia, the four children must join forces with the god of Narnia, a Lion named Aslan (marvelously voiced by Liam Neeson).

‘Narnia’ will certainly be compared to ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’ – maybe even as a combination of the two – but it isn’t trying to outdo either series. It’s well known that C.S. Lewis was friends with ‘Lord of the Rings’ scribe J.R.R. Tolkien, so the similarities to Tolkien’s books are undoubtedly there. Still, ‘Narnia’ is able to stand on its own because of the quality of Lewis’ material. While ‘Lord of the Rings’ went for an epic scope, ‘Narnia’ stays grounded. The larger-than-life feel and the danger are still present, but somehow this fantasy world feels smaller and friendlier. Lewis’ creation succeeds because it is merely playing into our deepest childhood desire to dream.

Lewis’ seven ‘Narnia’ stories are also significantly shorter than the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’ tales. The filmmakers combat this here by adding and extending a few key scenes – particularly the final battle – all while keeping the original plotline almost entirely intact. Some scenes are word-for-word and straight out of the book, while others have been altered to keep the action flowing and the excitement-level high. All of them work.

Still, with the plethora of effects shots scattered throughout the film, you would expect there to be a few missteps here and there. During their journey, the children meet up with various animals that live in the forest and the surrounding area. A kindly faun named Mr. Tumnus (Jame McAvoy), a beaver couple (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French), and the White Witch’s pack of savage wolves are just some of the creatures they encounter along the way. Some of the animals – Aslan and the Beavers, in particular – are animated nearly perfectly, while others – mainly the gang of wolves – look like they could have used a little more work. There are also a few frames where the green screen work looks a little shoddy. When looking at the overall picture, though, it’s hard not to appreciate all the work that went into this film.

Even with the abundance of CG, many of the actors also stand out. While the four children (Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, and Anna Popplewell) are not up to ‘Harry Potter’ standards just yet, they are still more than serviceable in their roles. Good child acting is at a premium nowadays, and these four have bright futures ahead of them.

The real gem of ‘Narnia,’ though, is Tilda Swinton, who manages to give one of the best performances of the year so far as the White Witch. Some might say that a role as a villain in an effects-laden children’s fantasy film isn’t exactly the right venue for a classic performance, but Swinton’s scene-stealing turn here is one of the best things about the film. The sheer emotion behind her jet black eyes is more than enough to get under your skin.

In addition to the wonderful effects and the solid performances, the adventures of ‘Narnia’ are accentuated by a heavyweight score from Harry Gregson-Williams – perhaps the best of the year. With any justice, it may be time for this underrated composer to receive his first Oscar nomination. Every note of Gregson-Williams’ score captures the essence of what Lewis intended the magical world of Narnia to be.

And indeed, Narnia is a magical world; a realization of the wildest dreams of children. It’s a place where Santa Clause really does exist and where children can be whoever they dream to be and accomplish whatever they dream to achieve. Kids will find this world enchanting and inspiring. If you open up your heart and unearth your inner child, you may just feel the same way.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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