movie film review | chris tookey
 
     
     
 

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

 (PG)
© Walt Disney Productions - all rights reserved
     
  Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
 
Average Rating
7.24 /10
 
Starring
Lucy - Georgie Henley , Edmund - Skandar Keynes
Full Cast >
 

Directed by: Andrew Adamson
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson Based on C.S. Lewis’s novel

 
 
 
Released: 2005
   
Genre: ACTION
ADVENTURE
FOREIGN
FAMILY
   
Origin: US
   
Colour: C
   
Length: 140
 
 


 
This is a wonderful, colossal, stupendous film that should entertain anyone of any age, nationality or religion and is not just a “must see” but a “must see again and again”. Where is that sixth star when you need it?
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Not only does it miraculously do full justice to C.S. Lewis’s classic 1950 fantasy. It improves upon it, giving it a more sophisticated sense of humour and a spectacular sense of scale (using yet more of the natural beauty of New Zealand) that turns the Narnia saga from a children’s series on a relatively modest scale into a worthy successor to The Lord of the Rings as an epic piece of storytelling.

Just as miraculously, it achieves all this without sacrificing the much loved qualities of the original novel, including its charm, sense of wonder and feeling for myth.

Even the Christian subtext of Lewis’s book is handled with taste and sensitivity. It’s there, but never laboured. And – with one tiny exception, the actor voicing the wolf Maugrim – the cast is British. Though shot in New Zealand by an American production company (Disney) it remains lovingly true to its original cultural background - which has not always been the case with Disney films, and is particularly welcome in the context of so British a book.

With only a few weeks to go until the end of 2005, I was certain that Wallace and Gromit would be carrying off my plaudits as Film of the Year. Now that I have seen this beautiful picture which achieves a similar level of perfection on a far more stunning scale, I would have to give Narnia the nod. I have a feeling that audiences will be returning to Narnia many more times during the next decade, and I for one can’t wait.

The script sticks amazingly – you could say "religiously" – close to Lewis’s novel. Four Pevensie children are sent from London as evacuees during the Blitz to the huge, rambling country house of the mysterious, eccentric but twinklingly benevolent Professor Kirke (played by the great Jim Broadbent).

Peter (played by Prince William lookalike William Moseley, pictured centre) is the oldest of the children, but his authority is disputed by his stroppy younger brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes). Peter’s somewhat priggish sister Susan (Anna Popplewell, pictured left) regards herself as a more responsible guardian of their small sister Lucy (Georgie Henley, pictured right).

It is, of course, Lucy who, during a game of hide and seek, discovers that a huge Jacobean wardrobe on the top floor contains more than just coats and mothballs. “It’s an awfully big wardrobe,” she comments in a masterpiece of English understatement as she stumbles out of its back and into the enchanted (and fabulously large) landscape of Narnia, where she is invited to tea by a faun Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy) and first hears of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) who has ruled the land for a hundred years of winter.

Director Andrew Adamson proves himself not only a master of effects and animation, which might be expected of the director of Shrek and Shrek 2, but an extraordinarily accomplished director of children.

The quality of the four young leading actors is exceptional – light years ahead of the Harry Potter cast, even on a first attempt. They make an utterly convincing and captivating family, and provide marvellous depth to characters which were fairly sketchy in Lewis’s original. As in all the best action films, every sequence leads to a telling character development, and each gradation in the development of the children and their family relationships is captured by the young actors with terrific intelligence and wit.

Even their comic timing is impeccable, as when Peter resists the responsibility of saving Narnia from the White Witch by objecting “We’re not heroes”. And Susan amplifies this by adding bathetically “We’re from Finchley”.

The direction is a constant delight in both its sweep and its detail, as when the White Witch casually torches a passing butterfly and turns it to stone without even bothering to watch it plummet to earth. The costume department has a whale of a time with Swinton’s dresses, which give a whole new meaning to the term “power dressing”.

The adult supporting cast is faultless throughout, but Tilda Swinton must be singled out for her cold, cruel and commanding performance as the Witch; Ray Winstone and Dawn French are delightfully funny as the voices of Mr and Mrs Beaver (just two of many animated triumphs); James McAvoy is a subtle, sprightly and enormously charming Mr Tumnus (with extraordinary CGI effects providing his lower half); and, perhaps best of all, Liam Neeson is impeccably leonine as the voice of the kind but powerful Aslan.

We have grown accustomed to brilliant special effects in the past few years, but even by modern standards these are breathtaking. Armies of Minotaurs, Centaurs, Gryphons, Giants – you imagine it, they’re all here, along with talking animals of astonishing verisimilitude. The final battle scene is truly amazing, and in some ways even improves upon The Return of the King in its grandeur and inventiveness.

Despite the long running time (over two hours) I would recommend this even to small children. Whatever your age, this is a magical movie, and far, far classier and more imaginative than I ever dared to hope. The Narnian books were my boyhood favourites, and I read them again and again – especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair. It’s a relief to see the books in hands that are not merely safe, but inspired.

The Narnian novels have already sold 85 million copies in 29 languages, and now they are all going to have to be reprinted. In the face of Philip Pullman’s spirited attacks on them from an atheistic standpoint, the Narnia books were in danger of becoming regarded as old-fashioned and irrelevant. No longer.

Director and co-writer Andrew Adamson deserves at the very least an award for services to children’s literature, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a Best Film Oscar to place alongside the Best Animation one he earned for Shrek.

Disney may have committed one of the business bungles of the 20th century when they turned down Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, but they’ve got this one right. This looks like being the most lucrative franchise in cinema for the next ten years. Expect shares in Disney to soar.

More importantly, expect your own heart – and the hearts of your children - to soar. You might want to take a handkerchief or two along, as well. We’ve had three fine family films already this year, in Wallace and Gromit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As a not-to-be-missed, life-enhancing experience, this one surpasses them all.


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