Few events change lives like war. A young Briton went off to the frontlines of the Great War and returned, as he would later recall, “a blaspheming atheist.” Those familiar with the themes of C.S. Lewis and his most enduring work, the children’s fantasy series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” might find such a claim hard to believe. Lewis, though he would go on to pen perhaps the most influential Christian allegory of the 20th century, was an atheist for nearly a decade before returning to Christianity and becoming one of its greatest champions.
The time has finally come when his beloved work can come to the screen without the unavoidable comedic tinge that animation would have brought to his noble characters. Director Andrew Adamson’s (“Shrek”) take on the enchanting second book in the series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” is appropriately ambitious and dignified – a film that will certainly be adored by old fans of the book but also appreciated by outsiders for its simple, powerful undertones.
The story centers on the four Pevensie children: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (newcomers William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley). Forced to flee a besieged London for the British countryside during World War II, the children find themselves at the mysterious Professor Kirke’s archaic home – a boring place, save for one wardrobe, through which they enter the mesmerizing land of Narnia.
But Narnia itself faces war, a long-awaited challenge to the evil White Witch’s rule (Tilda Swinton, “Constantine”). The arrival of the four children sets an ancient prophecy into motion and brings about the return of the divine lion, the ruler of all there is, Aslan (Liam Neeson, “Batman Begins”). As the Narnians choose their allegiances and prepare for war, the children must decide if they belong in a land where faith alone stands between them and death.
The plot of the film is similar to the book, but because Lewis’s novel was so short and non-descript, Adamson is free to add his own touches. The film’s opening sequence – a desperate attempt by the Pevensie family to escape the Nazi blitzkrieg over London – is so well constructed that it serves as an immediate attention-grabber for viewers unfamiliar with the novel.
From this sequence Adamson masterfully moves the audience through a painful separation of the Pevensie children from their mother and into the nostalgic atmosphere of Professor Kirke’s estate. By the time the children enter Narnia and partake in its greatest battle, viewers are already heavily invested in the film’s story.
Some of the scenes within Narnia – the meetings with beloved animals such as Mr. Tumnus the fawn, the beavers and, of course, Aslan – are stretched a little too thin and slow down an otherwise excellently paced film. Nevertheless, the climactic battle of Peter’s army against the minions of the White Witch shows CGI at its finest. The conclusion of the film is also strong, slowing the story down and setting the table for what will be an eagerly awaited sequel.
Evangelicals have pushed this film as they did Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” but “Narnia” is not as blatantly religious. Lewis’s most important commentary relates to materialism, the evils of war and excessive pride. Though there are constant references to Adam and Eve, it’s entirely possible to watch and enjoy “Narnia” while remaining oblivious to its biblical undertones. But recognizing these undertones, while necessary for a complete understanding and appreciation of Lewis’s magnificent work, does not detract from the everyday viewing experience. It contains enough wisdom and insight into today’s world to inspire everyone.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
At the Showcase and Quality 16