It has been at least 30 years since I read this classic series by C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” and so imagine my surprise when the characters came to life on the movie screen. I did, however, remember enough of the plot not to feel too damned old to be there, although parts of the movie still seemed new to me. My daughter commented that the movie lacked the depth of the books; granted she’s closer in age to the “reading” event than I am, but for a movie, it seemed a good waste of 2.5 hours.
The Pevensie kids are separated from their mother during World War II and forced to live in a huge mansion with virtually no adult supervision save a housekeeper they call “The Mcready” who’s only purpose is to who warns that “The Professor” can not ever be disturbed. So, no running, no jumping, breathe lightly and tiptoe around. Well, we know how long that lasts. She seems more a housekeeper on methamphetamine – tense, terse and prone to exaggeration – than a caregiver of children. She becomes the woman with heavy feet, stomping around off-camera to send the kids scattering. Basically, there is no supervision at all.
The “Chronicles of Narnia” is about four kids discovering that their closet is a portal into a magical world. I remember being enthralled when I first read it; I was much younger then and less jaded. However, the beaver in full metal body armor gave me pause. I never imagined a beaver ready to “throw down,” armed to the nines and ready to take on all comers.
These kids also survive for long periods of time in a snowy forest, which could only happen in a Lewis novel. In reality, they would have about as much chance of surviving in a snowy, sub-zero degree forest as Captain Kirk would have leading a life of celibacy.
The children step from one war zone (World War II, Europe) into, well, another war zone called Narnia, where the warriors aren’t our brave soldiers in combat gear, but a collection of talking beavers, fauns, goblins, and other half man-half, half-animal creatures armed to the teeth with enough strategy and tactics to survive a South Central L.A. riot unscathed.
It’s been snowing for the past 100 years, which is liable to make anybody a bit, all thanks to the woman whom everyone is either enslaved to or preparing to fight. Enter the White Witch, played incredibly well by Tilda Swinton, an extraordinarily pale skinned woman with white hair – and when I say almost no color, I mean she makes ghosts look tanned.
We have the usual religious claptrap that went along with this book – “Two sons of Adam, and two daughters of Eve,” – who turn out to be the children themselves – must break the curse. Humans, you see, are virtually unknown beings in Narnia’s mystical world, and the children are viewed prophetically. All the beavers, fauns and such like have whispered of four humans coming to save the day. These kids could be less interested, but as the story progresses, they become more like the heroes in the Narnian fable and less like children trying to run back through the wardrobe to safety. They have the support of a mighty lion, Aslan, who is not only mighty, but good, pure and right. We have to have one of these in every fairy tale or evil would take over; then we’d be watching a horror film.
They are helped to their hero-hood by, of all people, Father Christmas (James Cosmo) who rides in on his sleigh and, after a long speech about hope and the future of Narnia, turns out to be an arms dealer on the side except for that one day of delivering toys to tots. I guess he has to do something those other 364 days out of the year.
Christmas takes armament out of his gift bag, giving the children with an assortment of weaponry, a quick speech about using their tools effectively, then rides off into the snow presumably back to the North Pole. I half expected him to pull out the Narnian equivalent of a glock, but he managed to just stick with the various white-trash, pre-industrial age solutions to disputes – knives, arrows and swords.One wonders, though if maybe he stop en-route to rob a convenience store, but I digress. It is definitely a 2005 Christmas moment.
Overall, Narnia’s comes to us with the same empowering message created by the book, and it is fueled by an engrossing plot, strong acting, the usual plethora of “Oh Wow!” special effects, and surprising bursts of comic relief. The beavers are cool; the faun silly and Aslan, very noble. It, of course, reminds me of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” but it’s less cumbersome than the former movie and less goofy than the latter.
Rating: Four Out of Four Stars