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

on December 09, 2005 by L. J. Strom
The first book in C. S. Lewis' beloved "Chronicles of Narnia" has, much like a famous fantasy by another Oxford scholar, now received full feature film treatment. Evacuated to an elderly professor's estate during World War II, London siblings Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) discover access to the magical world of Narnia through a wardrobe. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton), self-proclaimed empress of the land, has cursed the place so that it's always winter there yet never Christmas. But Narnia's true king, the lion Aslan, is on the move, and the children learn they have crucial parts to play in freeing Narnia from its snowy spell.

As both an adaptation of the book and a film in its own right, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" is beautifully balanced and practically perfect. The script demonstrates deep respect for its source material without seeming slavish or stodgy. What few changes have been made are minor and forgivable, in contrast to the plot- and meaning-mangling alterations that marred Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films. Of course, Lewis' fairy tale lacks the density and sprawl of Tolkien's dark epic, so it was doubtless far easier to adapt, but that doesn't detract from the sure-handed craftsmanship at work here. Despite running well over two hours, the film never feels long; its pacing is impeccable. And while Lewis' Christian allegory determines the story's structure, it thankfully doesn't play on the screen as in-your-face preachy.

What's more, the human element stands at the forefront. The film's special effects team has done a wonderful job of bringing to life Lewis' talking animals and mythical creatures -- and of staging a bone-crunching battle between them -- yet the CGI magic never overpowers the story itself or the four children at its heart. This is a credit to the focus in the script, the clarity in the direction, and the young actors who portray the siblings with such feeling and presence. Georgie Henley, especially, shines in the pivotal role of Lucy, and even the supporting characters, from James McAvoy's kindhearted faun to Jim Broadbent's mysteriously sympathetic professor, leave a lovely, lasting impression.

Enchantment, adventure, sly humor, the beauty of the seasons, life lessons about responsibility, family and sacrifice all co-exist in this film in splendid harmony. The filmmakers have created a classic; here's hoping they do just as well with the rest of the Narnia books. Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell and Tilda Swinton. Directed by Andrew Adamson. Written by Ann Peacock and Andrew Adamson and Charles Markus & Stephen McFeely. Produced by Mark Johnson and Philip Steuer. A Buena Vista release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments. Running time: 140 min

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