It verges on snotty condescension to call C.S. Lewis' Narnia books Lord of the Rings lite, especially given Lewis' long-standing and fraught relationship with fellow Oxford don J.R.R. Tolkien. But they are. The seven Narnia books are less obsessively imagined than the Ring trilogy, and their roots in familiar Western folk and fairy tales are obvious, if brightened with Lewis' own oh-so-English inventions: the fretful faun with his sensible scarf and umbrella, the nattering beavers whose homey banter conceals deep reserves of bristly stiff-upper-lip pluck. The loyalty commanded by The Chronicles of Narnia isn't the devotion of whip-smart young adults whose restless imaginations once seized on the intricacies of Elvish and the elaborate topography of Middle Earth. It's the steadfast faithfulness of grown children who still get a shiver remembering the moment when little Lucy Pevensie, hiding in a wardrobe and inching backwards through a soft thicket of heavy, camphor-scented fur coats, suddenly realizes that the fur has given way to pine needles and there's a bracing winter breeze at her back instead of solid wood. Yes, I've tipped my hand.
The story begins in World War II-era London during the Blitzkrieg; like many children of besieged Londoners, the Pevensie siblings — responsible Peter (William Moseley), sensible Susan (Anna Popplewell), peevish Edmund (Skandar Keynes), who chafes at his older siblings' in-loco-parentis bossing, and plucky little Lucy (c) — are evacuated to a stranger's home in the country. Their sponsor, the formidable Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent), lives in a vast, drafty, isolated mansion ruled by his termagant of a housekeeper. The children are playing hide-and-seek when Lucy first stumbles into Narnia. She guilelessly befriends a faun, Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), and barely escapes the clutches of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who has plunged the once-verdant land into a hundred-year winter unbroken by even a single Christmas. Edmund finds Narnia next, but falls all-too-willingly under the spell of the witch's blandishments, sweetened by hot chocolate and Turkish Delight. All four Pevensies eventually make their way through the wardrobe, where they learn they're an integral part of a prophecy foretelling the witch's fall, the return of the lion-king Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the restoration of Narnia's former glory. The tale's Christian underpinnings (Lewis was a devout Anglican) are most evident in Aslan's self-sacrifice, which SHREK (2001) director Andrew Adamson stages with an emphasis on suffering and degradation that inevitably suggests THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004). But it's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: Generations of children have succumbed to Narnia, some from a secular perspective and others in light of their own religious upbringings. And it's a ripping yarn, full of narrow escapes, talking animals, marvelous sights and magical happenings that lead up to an epic battle between good and evil. The extensive CGI work is well used and the children are exceptionally well cast, especially the girls. Little Henley is a charmer and Popplewell is admirably sympathetic as the stick-in-the-mud who must respond to marvels like the plucky beaver who warns them of danger by retorting, "It's a beaver — it shouldn't be saying anything!"
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG
- Review: It verges on snotty condescension to call C.S. Lewis' Narnia books Lord of the Rings lite, especially given Lewis' long-standing and fraught relationship with fellow Oxford don J.R.R. Tolkien. But they are. The seven Narnia books are less obsessively imagi… (more)