I was a a big fan of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books as a kid. I looked at the big-budget The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe movie with hope that the books would make it to Hollywood intact.
Mostly, they do. I found Narnia fulfilling, but not quite inspiring. It reminds me a bit of the first two Harry Potter movies – dutiful, nice to look at, but it doesn’t stick with you like it could.
Wardrobe is the tale of Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and Susan – four stalwart WWII-era young British children who wander through a wardrobe into a magical world. The land of Narnia is under the spell of an evil White Witch (played superbly by a glamorous, menacing Tilda Swinton), who has kept the world in winter for a hundred years.
The good animals and beasts of Narnia await the return of the true lord of the land, the lion Aslan, who it is said will defeat the witch with the aid of four young human children. When Peter, Lucy, Susan, and Edmund stumble into Narnia, it looks like the prophecy is coming true, and the stage is set for a final battle between good and evil.
Director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) has one of the great stories as fertile material for his movie, and in the first half of the movie, he does a fine job evoking Narnia’s wintry beauty. The child actors, all unknowns, have to carry the bulk of the tale, but with mixed results. The younger children are good, but the older ones are stiff and unimpressive.
Oddly, it’s once the heroic Aslan (voiced by a regal Liam Neeson) appears in the movie that it starts to go a bit soft. Having taken its time up to now, the movie begins to rush along too quickly – the relationship between Aslan and the children seems forced, and a gigantic battle between armies of dueling beasts at the end doesn’t have the impact it should. The special effects are choppy – sometimes excellent, sometimes plastic.
Narnia is best in the smaller moments. When Narnia tries too hard to be an epic for the ages, it loses the prim, slightly reserved British charm that made the novels so memorable.