REVIEW: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

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Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe Movie Poster
Put me in the camp of those who have been fans of The Chronicles of Narnia since childhood, in which time I have read the series several times. Even reading the books as an elementary schooler, I couldn't miss the obvious allegorical thread of Christianity running throughout. As I grew older, I was amazed that such a brilliant writer of this children's book series also penned much weightier Christian classics as Mere Christianity. When I first heard that Narnia would make its way to the silver screen, I was esctatic. Several fan sites followed the filming and production. Once I heard that the film adaptation would stay true to the book, I was even more excited. So off I went to see the film, an adult fan of the works and personhood of C.S. Lewis, yet with the memory of the fantastic journey the Chronicles were as a child.

A side note here: as is well-known, C.S. Lewis was a contemporary and friend of an author of another recently adapted book, The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien. The two men shared their faith as well as their ability to write amazing works of fictional fantasy; however, Lewis' works of fantasy were written with children as the clearly intended audience. Tolkien's was not. Reading Chronicles as an adult, I still enjoy every bit of the fantastic journey, allegory, and imagery; but the series lacks the plot development and character development of adult literature. Anyone expecting the Chronicles books to read with the literary depth and intelligence of Rings is likely to be disappointed; the same is true with the film adaptations of each. Do not expect to find Rings in the Chronicles, and you won't be disappointed when it does not deliver.

The movie begins with a CG opening of WWII-era German airstrikes over London, and Mrs. Pevensie sending the children off to live with Professor Kirke in the English countryside. The opening does a fine job of setting the period and emotion of the story. When originally written, the war themes of the book would have resonated even with children, who lived through the realities of World War II. We are reminded that this story is intended for children, when the war-time emotions are repeated throughout the movie - usually in the form of Peter or Susan reiterating, "mother sent us away to avoid war", "we didn't come to fight in a war", or some similar variant. As an adult, the reiteration seemed to be overkill; I would be curious to discuss the issue with a younger viewer, to ascertain whether or not the war-time emotion theme resonated.

The Lord of the Rings was not the only book-to-movie adaptation of which I was reminded when watching The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW). The train station scene in which Mrs. Pevensie sends off the four children, and the train rolling through the countryside, reminded me of similar opening scenes in the Harry Potter movies. I'm faily certain that the similarities were unintended and completely coincidental, however.

The next scene finds the four children arriving at the Professor's house, and the story takes off from there. I was impressed with how closely the movie followed the book from this point forward. A few things were changed, but nothing terribly detrimental to the telling or underlying intent of the book. For instance, in the book, Lucy first encounters the wardrobe when the siblings are exploring the house to pass the time during a rainy day. The other three leave the spare room while Lucy enters the wardrobe. After her hours of adventure, she emerges from the wardrobe, shouting, "It's okay; I'm back!" only to find the other three outside the door, having just left the room. Lucy encounters Narnia a second time while playing hide-and-seek, and it is during this encounter that Edmund follows her into the wardrobe. However, in the movie, Lucy's first encounter with the wardrobe, and with Narnia, is during a game of hide-and-seek. and she emerges from the wardrobe, shouting, "It's okay; I'm back!" only to find the game right where she left it. Lucy enters Narnia a second time through the wardrobe late at night, while everyone else is asleep; Edmund sees her going upstairs as he is leaving the bathroom, and follows her. I'm not sure why the writers made this change, but it didn't appear to detract from the story.

The only other scene I wish the movie has held more closely to the book was the conversation between the children and the beavers in the Beaver's Dam. Their discussion of Aslan is one of the most compelling in the entire book. The movie maintained the plot points, but lost some of the awe. The exchange in which Mr. Beaver reveals that Aslan is a lion, and the children ask, "Is he safe?" and the Beaver replies, "Safe? Of course he's not safe... but he's good" still sends chills down my spine when I read it. The "no, but he's good" line is maintained at the end of the story in an exchange between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus, but doesn't have quite the same effect.

Otherwise, the movie stays very close with the book. As the plot progresses, one cannot help but be impressed with how visually stunning this movie is. The fantastic CGI blends in well with the live action; the scenery is grandiose; and most importantly, Aslan is every bit as awesome as any Chronicles fan would expect. The "reveal" scene at the Stone Table is perhaps one of the best secenes in the movie.

Refreshingly, the obvious Christian allegory in the book is maintained in the movie. From the "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" conversation in the Professor's study, to Aslan's recognition of the "deep magic" that "defines right from wrong and governs all our destinies", the Christian themes remain integral to the story. In fact, whether inadvertently, or as a blatant pander to the largely Christian audience (or somewhere in between), the script even adds the line, "It is finished," spoken by Aslan to Peter at the end of the Last Battle, right after he kills the White Witch. The one point that stood out to me as having missed the intended tone occurs in the scene in which the White Witch comes to Aslan demanding Edmund's traitor blood, and then renounces her claim after her conversation with Aslan. The White Witch asks Aslan, "How can I be sure the promise will be kept?" to which Aslan responds with a ferocious and righteously indignant roar. The crowd laughs when the Queen stumbles in fright at this roar. Aslan's reaction here represents the same righteous anger of Christ should one dare question the integrity of His Word. I liken it to Christ's cleansing of the temple, or the reverent fear each of us will experience at the foot of the Judgement Seat of Christ. In my opinion, a more appropriate response to such a situation would not have been laughter, but reverent fear and awe at the demonstration of raw power and righteous indignation of the King of Kings. Aside from this one disagreement, the movie does a wonderful job of preserving the allegorical thread and Christian undertones of the story.

Most pleasantly surprising, the acting in the film is top-notch. Ten-year-old Georgia Henley is absolutely fantastic in her major-film debut as Lucy Pevensie. In fact, Henley most completely fleshes out her character of any of the four siblings, and superbly portrays the subtleties and spiritual undertones of her character. In the book, Aslan and Lucy have a special relationship; Henley's acting demonstrates the nature and reasons for that relationship. Tilda Swinton (community leader Sal in The Beach, among several roles) embodies the cold and imposing character of the White Witch. Skandar Keynes, also in his movie-debut performance, ably portrays Edmund Pevensie's initial character flaws, as well as his changed, contrite nature.

Overall, I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of the Chronicles series, or anyone interested in a very well-done children's movie. (And while the battle scenes are marginally graphic, Disney stays true to its intended audience; no killing is portrayed, including Aslan's death scene. Even Peter's sword - used to kill Maugrim, and again in the battle, remains gleaming and unbloodied.) As well-produced as this installment was, I cannot wait to see what Disney has in store for the rest of the series.