The Chronicles of Narnia:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Directed by Andrew Adamson

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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During the Second World War, the Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are sent from London to stay with an old professor in his rambling country house. While playing hide and seek there one rainy day, Lucy discovers, at the back of a wardrobe, an entrance into an enchanted kingdom, Narnia. This land, though inhabited by a number of charming creatures, including fauns, talking animals, centaurs, griffons, and dwarfs, is ruled by the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who has cast a spell on her dominion so that it is always winter but never Christmas. Fortunately, the Pevensie children's arrival could herald the fulfillment of a prophesy that Narnia will be freed when both human beings and that world's creator, the great lion Aslan, arrive there.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Andrew Adamson's adaptation of C.S. Lewis's children's novel, is a generally entertaining if entirely undistinguished movie.

Lewis's books never have the marvelous, imaginative whimsy of Baum's, the complex irrationality of Carroll's, or the grandeur and profundity of Tolkein's, but the best of them are alive with a simple charm that can be quite appealing. In fact, although the author's tales can sometimes be a little tedious, and their narratives are occasionally so subordinated to Lewis's beliefs that they come across more as sermons than as literature, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is successful in combining a lighthearted adventure with a Christian allegory. While I will not claim that the book is a literary masterpiece, reading it is likely to entertain even a person who is not interested in the author's ideological agenda. Any movie based on it, consequently, has the potential to be both involving and endearing.

Adamson, fortunately, is able to bring out much of the book's sense of adventure and some of its quaintness. He is never, however, able to capture either its charm or its mysterious magic. He tries to make his film grand when he should have restricted himself to a small scale and strives to be cute when he should have been matter-of-fact. This excessive adorableness and overblown pomp actually take away from the narrative and strip away its unique intimacy. The talking animals are, for instance, straight from some Disney cartoon when they could have been so ordinary their very ordinariness gave them a feel of enchanted reality, and the land of Narnia itself has been made into a vast kingdom of incredible vistas instead of being a little wood through which a person could walk in an afternoon, losing himself in his imaginative captivation with that tiny wild place. Nonetheless, while he may miss the tone of Lewis's book, the director has, at the least, filled his tale with a sufficient number of daring escapes and fierce fights, including a battle between good and evil supernatural creatures, that it is usually exciting to watch.

The visual elements of the film are pretty mixed in quality as well, being competently realized if uninspired. Much of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in fact, looks very much like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Sadly, I cannot say that this style works well here. There is simply never anything special about Adamson's vision of Narnia. It may sometimes be quaint, and it may have numerous dramatic locations, but it is never infused with that sense of magic that could transport the viewer from his ordinary life into an enchanted fairy tale world.

Perhaps the movie's single worst fault is that it can be somewhat dull and can, as a result, lose the viewer's interest from time to time. Many of the events are rushed or presented in such a perfunctory manner that the director is not able to engage the viewer and make him feel the characters' anxiety, joy, wonder, or the like. Others, oddly, are given far too much emphasis and are drawn out far too long.

Even though the moviegoer may not care deeply about any of the persons he meets in the film, and even though he may find his attention wandering from time to time, most of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is still enjoyable to watch. It is often flawed and consistently mediocre, but its appealing qualities do make it worth seeing.

Review by Keith Allen

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