Our Rating: 5 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
As I heard Narnia for the first time as a child, I sat with sketching pad and pencil in hand, drawing the wonderful worlds the author painted in my mind. Years later, these images remain as strong as they once were, in a book as familiar to me as a wind's somber whisper. The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe was a favorite book of my childhood. When I learned my favorite story of all time was coming to the silver screen, I prayed it would be wonderful. I was not disappointed.
London bombings at the height of the world war force many parents to evacuate their children to the countryside. Among those that board the train are Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley). Sent to live with an eccentric professor in a magnificent house full of numerous rooms and narrow staircases, the children attempt to quell feelings of homesickness. During a game of hide and seek, Lucy ventures into a wardrobe that leads her to another world. Narnia lies beneath a hundred year winter at the command of an evil queen. In her keeping are a number of spies, among them a faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), whom Lucy meets at the lamp post in the wood. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) lives in eternal fear that humans will venture into the wood and threaten the feeble hold she has over surrounding territories.
Lucy manages to escape with aid of Mr. Tumnus, but the other children are not so fortunate. In a return through the wardrobe, Edmund inadvertently encounters the "queen" and is manipulated by promises of power and sweets into agreeing to betray his family. When all four children stumble into the wood, they stand to fulfill an ancient prophecy that says the rightful king of Narnia will return, dispelling the Witch's evil hold. Because he did not turn over Lucy to the queen, Mr. Tumnus has been arrested by the secret police. In an effort to save him, the children encounter Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who have been sent to take them to the Stone Table, where they will encounter the true king of Narnia, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). What lies ahead is greater than any of them could have imagined. There was some concern over whether or not this film could do the story as much justice as it deserves, but both as a fan of CS Lewis and his books, I was absolutely enthralled with their depiction of one of the greatest children's stories of all time.
Lewis' power lay in simplifying a story that is as familiar to many of us as breathing and translating it in such a way that each time it is revisited, it feels as though you have never encountered it before. The film is one of the mightiest, most compelling adaptations of a book that I have ever seen. Built on the solid foundation of Lewis' epic story of good and evil, it breathes life into the characters he envisioned. I would not change a single thing about it, and that's extremely rare in film making. The casting is absolute brilliance. Each of the children are rich with personality. Peter and his genuine desire to be heroic. Susan and her determination to mother the others. Edmund and his numerous doubts and fears. Lucy, and her trusting innocence, the virtue that lead her to Narnia to begin with. The two most important characters in the story are Jadis, the White Witch, and Aslan. Swinton's depiction of the calculating, cruel, often brutal queen is dramatic, compelling, and cold. I had my doubts when I heard how she was going to be depicted, but it translates beautifully onto the screen. There are times when her eyes are completely black, and her features send a cold chill through your bones. Not even her breath appears on the iciest of days, depicting her utter lack of humanity or warmth. One of the mightiest moments is when Aslan defeats her, and the audience has a glimpse into the golden eyes and rippling mane, then a look at the cold, chiseled horror on her face. It's clear that the most computer effort was poured into Aslan, a mighty lion. He is so realistic that it's difficult to remember that he was computer generated, and the vocal talents of Liam Neeson are deep, slightly gruff, and extremely rewarding. Other animals are also animated well.
Though the film managed to achieve a PG rating, it is closer to a PG13 both due to thematic elements and the presence of numerous scenes of creature violence and warfare. Animals turn on one another. Wolves snatch talking creatures by the neck, often inflicting harm. A fox is bitten on the back, then flung several feet into the air. Mr. Beaver is threatened. The White Witch turns adversaries into stone by plunging her wand into their breast. A wolf is stabbed and killed. The children are chased by wolves on several occasions. An emotional scene leads to Aslan being slaughtered on the stone table (we never see the impact of the knife, only his expression as it strikes) but audiences will find the cruel mockery and abuse of him in earlier moments just as hard to bear. The climax of the film is a violent battle between Aslan's army and that of the White Witch. Most of it is so rapid it never becomes gruesome, but arrows and falling rocks take out medieval creatures. Animals turn on and maul one another. Swords are used to dispatch enemies.
Lewis wrote the books with a purpose in mind. Christians cannot walk out of this
film without seeing numerous intentionally symbolic scenes and references,
sacrificial death and resurrection being the most predominant. Not once is the
religious symbolism glossed over or downplayed. Such moments as the return of
Aslan, the death of the White Witch, and the profound discussion on goodness vs.
being "safe" (Aslan is not safe, but he is good) are painted vividly. It's not a
film you can walk out of without experiencing numerous emotions. I doubt any
Christian could watch this without tears running down their face at some point.
It is one of the greatest films of its time.