During World War 2, the four Pevensie children are sent to stay in the remote countryside with Professor Kirke. A somewhat distant man, the kids try and pass the time by exploring his large home and playing games. One day, during a game of hide and seek, youngest Lucy hides in a large wardrobe. She discovers that there is something different with the Wardrobe. As she pushes through coats, she suddenly finds herself in a snowy forest.
She runs into a Faun (half man and half goat) who timidly introduces himself as Mr. Tumnus. When he discovers that Lucy is a “daughter of Eve”, he becomes worried and tries to hurry Lucy back to where she came. He explains there world (where there is no Christmas, but a seemingly endless winter) is ruled by a tyrant queen, the White Witch, who demands any member of the line of Adam and Eve should be brought to her. Upon her return, her siblings do not believe Lucy. And why would they?
That night, Lucy tries to return, and is unknowingly followed by Edmund. Edmund meets the White Witch who wants him to bring his sibling to her. She plays to his ego and desire for fanciful Turkish Delights candy.
Eventually, all the kids enter the wardrobe and find Mr. Tumnus is missing. They are greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are…well, talking Beavers. The kids learn more of the curse upon Narnia, but that many believe the world will be released by the return of King Aslan and the children of Adam and Eve. And so the children become drawn into a battle to save the world of Narnia from the cruel White Queen.
The Chronicles of Narnia are the beloved children’s books by noted popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. The series has been adapted in the past. There was a cartoon of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from the BBC in 1979. And four of the books* were adapted for a live action series (also from the BBC) in the late eighties. But the twin successes of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series made things look viable for more fantasy.
And so, Disney and Walden Media combined forces to bring us the Chronicles of Narnia. They brought in Andrew Adamson, who was known for Shrek and Shrek 2 before this.
Visually, the effects in the film are quite good. Aslan looks like a real lion, not just a digital cartoon. The makeup is effect for the creatures of Narnia. The cast is good. And yet…the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a bit…flat. It follows the main beats of the story, but it is clear that, rather than looking to the novels for guidance? They were looking at the success of the Lord of the Rings. Overwhelmingly so. The emphasis is on “epic”. And this is not really something at the heart of the Narnia books. The books are short, in fact, much shorter than the Tolkien’s books. I almost wonder if the seven books total more than the three Rings books.
A certain amount of comparison would be inevitable. Lewis and Tolkien were close friends. When it came to their work though, they had very different attitudes. Tolkien had no real use for allegory. But that is what drives the heart of the Narnia Books. The allegory is as important as the story.
And the film does not really water down the allegory. Aslan is still clearly a stand in for Jesus. Though, some might feel that Aslan seems to have less bite. He seems a bit warm and fuzzy and a little less…threatening…even for the minions of evil.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe very much wants to be the Lord of the Rings, and this causes the film to not carve out it’s own identity against the Lord of the Rings films. Instead, it feels like a pale comparison.
*Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader were combined.