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

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

Directed by Andrew Adamson. Voice by Liam Neeson. Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent. (2005, PG, 135 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 9, 2005

To recap: This is fusillade No. 1 in Disney's presumed seven-film adaptation of C. S. Lewis' beloved children's tales, in which the four Pevensie children – tiny, hopeful Lucy (Henley); put-upon younger brother Edmund (Keynes); sweet, maternal Susan (Popplewell); and brave lad Peter (Moseley) – are sent by their mother to the English countryside to escape the German Blitz. There they encounter a magical wardrobe that functions as the portal to the miraculous land of Narnia, currently ruled by the White Witch (Swinton, costumed in a decidedly unwitchy outfit that makes her look like a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and Björk on Oscar night). The White Witch is a vicious, thoroughly evil character intent on enslaving the more sun-dappled areas of Narnia, currently held by the wise and noble lion Aslan (voiced with appropriate solemnity by Neeson). My question is, if all the fauna, and even the flora, in the fantasy world of Narnia are sentient, what on earth (or, you know, wherever) does anyone eat? If I recall my C.S. Lewis, he didn't bother with the digestive systems of his characters either, so director Adamson (Shrek) and his co-screenwriters Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely are apparently off the hook. Still, the whole issue of food and the lack thereof left me feeling a bit peckish. There's much to dine on visually, as you'd expect from a reported $150 million Disney outing, but the fact of the matter – whether you fell in love with the seven Narnia books as a child or not – is that $150 million big ones no longer seem to add up to very convincing special effects, and in a world populated by a hodge-podge of mythic beasties ranging from centaurs to satyrs (here called fauns) and from the legendary flaming Phoenix to Aslan, the talking lion and Lewis' four-legged metaphorical Christ figure, that's a huge problem. Shots of the Pevensie girls riding atop Aslan's bunching and tawny musculature look as phony as the traveling mattes of RKO yore, and many members of the White Witch's ogre-inclusive army appear to be sporting nothing more than cheap latex masks. Did all the talented effects mavens in this film's home base of New Zealand end up in Peter Jackson's pocket already? It would appear so. (Kong triumphs yet again.) The film's rapid, almost video-game sense of narrative (and I don't recall the books having this problem) means it leaps and cavorts from serious situation to very serious situation like a Super Mario Jesus leaping over the waters. There's no sense of calm before the gathering storm because the film is all storm, and so when the thunderheads of the White Witch finally crash down atop the outnumbered army of Aslan, it comes almost as an afterthought: oh, yes, the battle. We'd almost forgot. Pacing and dodgy CGI work aside, Narnia is nearly saved by those immensely likable and altogether stiff-upper-lippy Pevensie kids. Moseley's pre-King Peter, in particular, and wee Henley, all doe-eyed, gape-mouthed wonderment, are more real than anything else on the screen. Their inter-sibling battles, presaging the "real" thing later in the film, have a ring of truth to them that Frodo would kill for. But still, as a broadside across the bow of Lord Jackson and his rampaging WETAns, this is a puny shot. And I'm still hungry.
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