The Good: Mr. Tumnus and James McAvoy's performance
The Bad: Pacing, Effects, Stiff acting, Predictable character arcs
The Basics: With its childish plot, stiff acting and utter lack of character development, the first Chronicles Of Narnia disappoints an adult audience.
Peter Jackson destroyed any legitimate chance The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe had of being a decent film. Jackson's cinematic masterpiece of The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (reviewed here!) set the bar obscenely - and rightly - high. Andrew Adamson, who directed The Chronicles Of Narnia,: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe had almost no chance. Yet, he tried anyway. You have to admire him for that. Well, almost.
The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe finds four children, sent to live with a mysterious professor in a mansion away from the bombings of World War II. There, Edmund, Peter, Lucy and Susan keep themselves occupied by playing throughout the day. While playing hide and seek, Lucy - the youngest sister - hides in a wardrobe and discovers that the furniture is actually a doorway to a magical world called Narnia.
Narnia has been beset with perpetual winter, it is under the spell of the evil White Witch. Lucy meets a faun named Tumnus there and soon after, Edmund enters the frozen world as well. Edmund, however, is met by the White Witch, who buys his allegiance with flattery and a hot drink. When Susan and Peter enter Narnia as well, they learn that they are prophesized to break the White Witch's spell and restore Spring. That is, unless Edmund betrays them and their new lion friend Jesu . . er, Aslan, to the White Witch.
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is a children's movie. Flat out. It's for the kids and it makes little pretense at being anything more. Adults are likely to be dreadfully disappointed, especially after seeing how amazing a fantasy film could be via The Lord Of The Rings. Will children be entertained by this? I don't know. I don't particularly care, either. All I know is I was disappointed.
First off, Aslan is the most obvious Jesus metaphor of all time and the overt Christian references are troubling to those who want to simply enjoy a fantasy film. Father Christmas makes an appearance and it does beg the question, how does Jesus fit into Narnia? Aslan, the talking lion who talks the talk of peace, love and brotherhood, is redeemed in the narrative only by offering redemption and forgiveness to one of the characters, something most of the so-called Christians watching this movie might well have forgotten how to do.
Outside Aslan, who is voiced by Liam Neeson quite well, the only acting that is decent in the entire movie is that of James McAvoy. McAvoy plays Mr. Tumnus, the faun, and he is the only actor whose portrayal is not either stiff, awkward or flat-out immature. McAvoy has exceptional timing and great body language. It's rare to find an actor who may regulate the twinkle in his eye. McAvoy does and he steals every moment he's on screen.
Unfortunately, none of the other actors live up to the bar he has set so high. Tilda Swinton gives a surprisingly stiff performance as the White Witch. Gone is her mastery of face, body and voice from Orlando (reviewed here!), replaced with a veneer somewhere between bored and sitting on a thorn and not hiding it so well. It's too bad, too because she has talent and exceptional ability. Similarly, Jim Broadbent, who plays the professor, is given little room to shine.
Instead, most of the time, the screen is filled with child actors William Moseley (Peter), Anna Popplewell (Susan), Skandar Keynes (Edmund) and Georgie Henley (Lucy). The best of the bunch is Popplewell, who is given the worst character arc and the least to do on screen. Instead, much time is given to the young Henley who is barely convincing throughout much of the movie and Keynes who is stiff and dull. Moseley is thoroughly white bread and one wonders how these three were chosen for the part. They make a strong argument for computer generated characters.
Of course, some of the problem is not their fault. The characters are not terribly well-defined or interesting. Peter learns he is to become a great leader and because it is a children's movie, there is no conflict, no questioning. It's "sure, strap a sword on me and I'll be a man!" Edmund is treacherous and childlike and then, poof, he's not. Get real. And Lucy and Susan are trapped in gender roles that should have died in the 1950s. Outside Tumnus, there's not a character worth watching in the entire movie. And, sadly, Tumnus does not develop.
Finally, the effects in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe are inadequate. In order to keep a PG rating, the film sacrifices realism for rating. There are far too many points where CG characters look drawn in or pass through the frame quickly. Or are cropped almost out of the image. There are far better films.
Who might like this film adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia? I don't know, but it won't be those who loved The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. They will simply shake their heads in dismay to learn that much of the rest of the series is already in pre-production.
For other fantasy films, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Alice In Wonderland
For other film reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.