Photo courtesy of WALT DISNEY PICTURES, WALDEN MEDIA
Following Edmund’s rescue from the White Witch, the boy meets privately with Aslan.
With the opening of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” this month, another classic literary fantasy series begins its journey into cinematic history. Disney and Walden Media have transformed the book into a big-screen epic that transports audiences to author C.S. Lewis’ invented world populated by talking animals and mythical creatures.
And, surprisingly, it works.
This could have been a fiasco. It could have been deconstructed into a brainless, tedious lackluster after-school special.
Its creators could have opted for cute and infantile, or, worse, could have bowed to epidemic political correctness and played down the religious connotations.
Thankfully, none of this came to pass. The story remains as engaging as it is adventurous, its characters are suitably developed and the film’s scope is as stunning as its settings are fantastic.
Most importantly, director Andrew Adamson skillfully tells the tale in such a way that those wanting to find Christian allegories will easily spot them, while those simply interested in the escapist fantasy will not feel like they’re listening to a Sunday morning sermon.
The story follows four World War II era children as they stumble upon a magical world accessed through the back of their guardian’s old wardrobe.
Cautiously curious, the children gradually – and somewhat reluctantly – become involved in a century’s old prophecy that promises to liberate the realm of Narnia from the clutches of the White Witch. Sibling rivalry leads to a betrayal which complicates the matter and plunges the “sons of Adam” and “daughters of Eve” toward their destiny, guided by the talking lion Aslan, voiced by Liam Neeson.
Lewis’ themes of treachery, trust, sacrifice and reconciliation play out well in this adaptation.
Clearly reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy – and dependent upon the same computer generated imaging technology to make the impossible seem plausible – Adamson’s “Narnia” is relatively faithful to the children’s novel, first published in 1950. Adamson never really deviates from the story line, although he does embellish the tale to capitalize on the theatrical medium. Most notable are some stirring action scenes including the river crossing and the Great Battle – a bloodless mêlée that nevertheless contains some violent aspects that might be too intense for younger children.
Tilda Swinton as Jadis, the White Witch, commands each scene in which she appears. Her depiction of this character could not be closer to perfection. The actors playing the children fill their roles well, with the two standouts being Georgie Henley as Lucy and Skandar Keynes as Edmund. Other highlights include James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus the Faun as well as Jim Broadbent as Professor Digory Kirke. The voices of Ray Winstone and Dawn French give life to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” achieves the magic of Lewis’ creation, delivering a riveting adventure filled with stunning imagery and captivating characters and framed by its underlying message promoting virtue and integrity.