Review Date: 12/18/05
Cast: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, Michael Madsen
Four British children are sent into the country to avoid the German Blitz during World War II. At their new home, they discover a magical wardrobe that wisks them away to the land of Narnia. Narnia is held in a state of perpetual winter at the hands of the White Witch (superb Tilda Swinton), and a prophecy says that the arrival of four humans will summon the return of Aslan, Narnia's true king. Naturally, it's in the ice queen's best interest to destroy the children as quickly as possible, but her efforts are thwarted by the creatures who are loyal to Aslan. The story ultimately comes down to an epic battle between what we perceive is good and evil.
C.S. Lewis's classic fantasy tale was required reading when I was in elementary school, but I honestly have no recollection of it whatsoever so I can't comment on how accurate the film adaptation is. The production values are very high and it's definitely a first rate film. The acting is quite good, with ten year old Georgie Henley stealing the show with her wide-eyed wonder. Her reactions to the world of Narnia are actually more convincing than the visual effects are. Speaking of which, the effects are quite good and look very pretty, but for some reason they just didn't sit well for me. Maybe it was the voice talent or the personification of the animal characters, but it's more likely that I'm jaded and my expectations are set too high these days. The epic battle at the end of the movie is brilliantly staged and extremely violent, but edited in such a way that it can still be somewhat kid friendly. Unfortunately, battles of this scope seem to have become commonplace in fantasy films these days, and as such it loses much of its impact. However, what struck me the most about the film was its stellar tear jerking music score, which unfortunately gets spoiled during the closing credits by a couple of really terrible tunes.
The film also suffers a bit from its source material as none of the characters are particularly likable, apart from Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley). The fact that the children are always fighting and bickering may be realistic, but it's certainly not enjoyable to watch. The voice characterizations also seemed inappropriate to me and didn't fit the characters very well, which constantly disrupted my suspension of disbelief. While Liam Neeson has a great voice, it just didn't seem like the voice you would hear coming out of a lion. The film also becomes tiresome with its heavy handed Christian propaganda, which makes it feel more like a sermon than a fantasy adventure. Still, overall it's an enjoyable and delightful visual spectacle, full of magic, imagination, and childhood wonder.