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THE LION THE WITCH AND TEH WARDROBE, 2005
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LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE,  MOVIE POSTERTHE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Chronicles of Narnia, 2005
Movie Reviews

Directed by Andrew Adamson
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent
Review by Jane Hopkins


SYNOPSIS:

Four kids travel through a wardrobe to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free it with the guidance of a mystical lion.

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REVIEW:

C.S. Lewis’ classic “Chronicles of Narnia” book series has been adapted before, both in live action and animation. These have varying degrees of popularity, although the 1979 cartoon of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” seems quite fondly remembered. The problem is that the stories are just so epic that one movie or miniseries just can’t do them justice.

Fortunately, now all seven of Lewis’ Narnia books are going to receive the full-length, big-budget treatment they deserve. Director Andrew Adamson has helmed two excellent Narnia films, the most recent being 2008’s “Prince Caspian.” Adamson kicked off the series in 2005 with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” arguably the most well-known – and perhaps best-loved – chapter in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

This first installment of the series begins with the story of the Pevensie children, four siblings growing up during World War II. Forced to flee London, they’re sent to live in the country with an eccentric professor. One day, the youngest of the children discovers an entrance into Narnia, a magical world that exists beyond the back of an old wardrobe. When the siblings enter this realm, they discover that the tyrannical White Witch dominates this fantastical place. It has been prophesied that the Pevensie children will turn the tide of the war and restore peace with the aid of Aslan, the legendary but little-seen ruler of Narnia. However, when one of the children allies himself with the White Witch, will the prophecy still come true?

The film is certainly epic, with its battles and biblical messages, but director Andrew Adamson manages to keep a whimsical fantasy tone throughout. At first, it seems a bit like Tolkien-meets-Beatrix Potter, since its mystical quests involve talking animals. However, Adamson treats the material so seriously that before long, the audience is completely invested in the Pevensie children and their mission. The director perfectly balances the danger and wonder of Narnia, showing us how far it has fallen while still convincing us that it’s worth saving.

As an adaptation, it retains the charm of the original book, but details are added and scenes are expanded to make the story more suitable for a visual medium. The final battle is realized especially well. In the novel, it is described very briefly, but frankly, a brutal play-by-play would have been quite inappropriate in a children’s book. The filmmakers have their work cut out for them, but they hit it out of the park with a truly stirring final showdown between the forces of good and evil. While the action is exhilarating, the real strength of these scenes is that with all the development leading up to them, we genuinely care what happens to each character.

Adamson has chosen some very capable young actors to play the Pevensie children. William Moseley and Anna Popplewell are convincing as adolescents who have been forced to grow up too quickly, while Skandar Keynes ably tackles the difficult role of Edmond. As Lucy, the first child to stumble upon Narnia, Georgie Henley absolutely shines. She beautifully conveys her character’s innocence without ever becoming precious.

The adult actors are also perfectly suited to their roles. James McAvoy is very endearing as Mr. Tumnus, a faun with whom Lucy forms a close bond. Patrick Kake impresses as Oreius, the centaur, while as the savage minotaur General Otmin, Shane Rangi delivers a strong performance despite being weighed down with what has to be one of the most restrictive costumes in film history.

As Jadis, the White Witch, Tilda Swinton treads a thin, fascinating line between beauty and ugliness. Swinton’s portrayal is devoid of camp but nonetheless highly entertaining; you’re fixated on her whenever she’s onscreen, but at the same time, you truly loathe the character. When she wears the (temporarily) vanquished Aslan’s mane into battle, you just have to marvel at her audacity. And as far as wardrobes go, Swinton’s is fabulous. In her elaborate gowns, the Witch is a striking figure, fixing her enemies with a gaze that’s simultaneously hypnotic and repellant. Hovering always at her side is manservant Ginarrbrik, played by Kiran Shah, who adds a welcome touch of comic relief to the movie. Back in the “normal” world, Jim Broadbent brings his usual warmth to the role Professor Kirke, who actually believes the children’s stories of Narnia.

Narnia is full of talking animals, but fortunately, they aren’t cutesy. When it comes down to the crunch, they don the chainmail and do battle like everyone else. Memorable characters include Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French), the Witch’s wolf henchman Maugrim (Michael Madsen) and a double-agent fox (Rupert Everett). Then of course you have Aslan. Voiced by Liam Neeson, Aslan is pillar of strength from the moment he appears, providing the wisdom our young heroes need.

The creature effects are dazzling, particularly when it comes to integrating real actors with CGI elements. Although the centaurs are impressive, the standout is probably Mr. Tumnus. McAvoy is transformed with make-up and CGI, both of which combine to create a truly believable creature. The faun’s legs don’t seem like an effect, but a natural part of the character’s anatomy. Soon, the audience completely buys into the idea that these are not human actors, but real magical beings.

Narnia itself is breathtaking, even when locked in the icy grip of the White Witch. Our first glimpse of this world seems lifted straight from a Christmas card: an evergreen forest blanketed with snow, with a lonely streetlamp glowing in the middle of it. Unlike other stories in which children journey to fantastical lands, here there isn’t such a sense of being a stranger in a strange land. Narnia actually feels like a world in which you could happily spend the rest of your life, rather than a world (like Wonderland, for example) from which you can’t escape fast enough.

Henry Gregson-Williams’ score is fittingly majestic, and a number of artists contribute Narnia-inspired pop singles. Imogen Heap’s “Can’t Take It In” is the most prominently featured, playing over the movie’s touching epilogue. Its ethereal quality perfectly suits the feeling of Narnia. However, it was Alanis Morissette’s contribution, “Wunderkind,” that was actually nominated for an Oscar, and although it didn’t win, it’s still a stirring song.

Although the “Narnia” series serves as a Christian allegory, with Aslan as the Christ-figure, this is conveyed subtly enough that it remains accessible to any viewr regardless of his or her beliefs. This is not an easy task, but fortunately, Adamson avoids beating the religious connections to death, focusing instead on universal themes of loyalty and love.

With two films down and five to go, fans can look forward to many more adventures in Narnia. That’s a relief, because after viewing “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the audience feels like the Pevensie children themselves: enchanted by this magical land and aching to return to it.

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