a critiQal film review The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Plot: While England is being bombed by the Germans in WWII, 4 kids are sent to live with their uncle in the country. During a game of hide and seek, youngest girl Lucy (Henley) hides in a huge wardrobe - only to emerge out the other end into a snowy wilderness. When the others finally discover the world in the wardrobe, they find themselves thrust into the middle of a battle between The White Witch (Swinton) and Aslan The Lion (Neeson).

Reviewed
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  • ...brings C.S. Lewis' classic tale to spectacular life.

Since we weren’t going to be visiting our families until January, we decided to do something to occupy ourselves during our family-less Christmas holidays. Since we hadn’t been to the movies in awhile, we decided to treat ourselves to a movie Christmas weekend and New Years weekend. Our Christmas weekend movie, as you already know, was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). After that, we couldn’t go see some little movie, could we? Of course not, so we went to check out the highly anticipated The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Since we both have been fans of the C.S. Lewis series since we were kids, we went into the film with high expectations. But, would the Hollywood version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the classic series, be able to live up to our high expectations, or were we going to be starting out 2006 on the wrong foot?

The acting was very well done by all involved in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The 4 children are mostly newcomers to the movie biz, with only Anna Popplewell somewhat recognizable from her role in The Little Vampire. Other than that, most of the main characters of the film are unrecognizable (as the kids of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) were – at first), so the viewer isn’t distracted by any preconceived notions about the actors themselves. The 4 main kids do a great job of bringing to life these characters most viewers have grown up with, almost exactly duplicating their roles in the book.

The most recognizable actor in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is never seen, only heard: Liam Neeson voices Aslan, the good lion. While Liam does do a credible job in his voice role, he can’t compare to the king of all speaking lions: Mustafa, from Disney’s The Lion King (1994), who was brought to life by the deep bass of James Earl Jones. Since James Earl Jones is obviously out of the running for Aslan’s voice, my personal recommendation would have been Dennis Haybert – the deep voice that has been seen recently in the series “24” (TV) and those Allstate commercials. (Are you in good hands? You would be if you had Dennis Haybert doing a voice-over).

However, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe instead used Liam Neeson, a rather odd choice at first glance. But, he tried to bring a softer yet still powerful tone to the voice of Aslan, and this voice tended to exude a quiet power, showcasing the commanding presence of Aslan without really bringing an overt amount of attention to it. Well done, Liam – although James and Dennis still have you beat in the “cool voice” department.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does an excellent job of staying as true to the book it’s based on as it possibly can. All of the major scenes from the novel are in the movie, brought to life by someone who was obviously an avid fan of the book when he was younger.

Thankfully, they didn’t try to include absolutely everything in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) tried to do a few years ago. That ended up leaving the viewers feeling disjointed, as if the movie had just been overloaded with seemingly non-connected scenes. They instead focused on the scenes the filmmakers thought were vital to the story, and left most of the rest on the cutting room floor.

After the 4 kids enter the world of Narnia, not one scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe passes without a very realistic fantasy species on the screen. The viewers, thankfully, have all these fanciful species thrust onto them slowly, with the first introduction being of a rather unassuming faun (half man, half goat) named Tumnus. After the shock of a very realistic half man creature begins to sink in, the audience is prepared for a bit more – and then is shocked again when a normal, if rather large, beaver stands up and begins speaking.

As The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe progresses, the creatures and scenes continue to draw the viewer into this fantastical world of Narnia, so by the time the epic battles of these creatures begin, the viewer has already been fully immersed withing this world. It’s a great transition from reality to fantasy, and keeps the viewer waiting to catch a glimpse of what’s around the next corner.

The battle sequences of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are already being compared, in depth and scope, to the incredible sequences that took place in the popular The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) recently. Both include fantastical creatures in a war against evil, and both involve large armies, but the mood of the films definitely sets them apart.

Peter Jackson’s battle sequences for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) always included an aura of foreboding, a feeling that the enemy was so evil, good had very little hope of defeating it, which cast a disturbing pall over most of the sequences. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, aiming for a younger audience, tries to keep a cheerier disposition throughout even the worst parts of the battles. This does detract a little from the viewer’s involvement in the large-scale battles being fought, but by that time the viewer is invested in the film, so a little distraction won’t turn them away completely.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe truly does justice to the classic tale by C.S. Lewis. Casting unknowns in the 4 lead roles may have seemed like a risk to some, but the films leading up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) did the same thing, and look how those have turned out so far.

Liam Neeson’s Aslan isn’t the best vocal lion I’ve ever seen on screen, but the reserved dignity in his voice does play a great part in creating a bond between his character and the audience – especially during the Stone Altar scene.

Plus, the plethora of special effects and the quiet way of slowly introducing a fantasy world to the audience give this movie a lead-in that easily outdoes Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) or The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe has definitely given this C.S. Lewis series a healthy start.

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