The Lion, the Witch
& the Wardrobe
- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s no secret that with the theatrical release of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” comes plenty of unheralded comparisons to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but they really aren’t that necessary. Aside from the fantasy genre that both stories inhabit, the latter features a far more complex text and a fairly mature fan base. C.S. Lewis’ seven-part “Chronicles of Narnia” book series, however, is accessible to virtually any age group, and while the Christian undertones aren’t as prominent in the film adaptation as they are in the novel, it remains a relevant difference between the two literary works. Of course, this doesn’t prevent the film from being described as a “Lord of the Rings” for children, but considering the level of excellence that Jackson’s films have achieved, it’s the best compliment anyone could give.
The first chapter of Lewis’ celebrated novel opens in war-torn London as a German blitzkrieg threatens the lives of innocent Englanders all across the country. With the departure of their father off at war and their house devastated to a pile of splinters, the Pevensie children – Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy (William Mosely, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell and Georgie Henley, respectively) – are sent away to the countryside to live with Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent), a quiet collector of artifacts whom the children rarely see. While playing hide and seek in the house one day, youngest sister Lucy walks into a giant wardrobe closet, only to discover she’s been magically transported to the land of Narnia.
It’s there she meets Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a friendly faun who informs her of Narnia’s eternal winter set forth by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), an evil dictator who rules over the land and has issued a decree demanding the surrender of any human, should a creature ever cross their path. At first, the other three children don’t believe Lucy’s accusations, but soon enough, they follow her into the wardrobe only to discover that not only is she telling the truth, but that a prophecy exists in the land that tells of two brothers and sisters who will aid King Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and his growing army in the liberation of Narnia.
Despite my hatred for children actors, the performances by the boys and girls who played the Pevensies were actually quite good. Also worth mentioning is Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch with enough devilish charm to land a side gig as Saruman’s mistress, and the voice cast behind the talking animal kingdom, including Neeson as the lion king (literally) and Ray Winstone as a valuable beaver. And speaking of beavers, there’s nothing funnier than seeing one decked out in chain mail with bow and arrow in hand. That is, unless, you count the short interruption in the story by Santa Claus (yes, that Santa Claus), who drops by early on in the Pevensie’s journey to equip them with weapons for the impending war.
It’s moments like these that make the first “Narnia” film a bit too easy to laugh at, but adult moviegoers also need to respect the fact that this is, first and foremost, a children’s film that depends on the imagination of its young audience. Beyond that, the film is still a pretty mediocre experience. In spite of the remarkable visual effects and amazing final battle sequence, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” doesn’t succeed at surmounting other likeminded fantasy franchises. This doesn’t mean that “Narnia” book sales won’t be spiking over the next few months, or that future film sequels won’t be highly anticipated from fans of the series. It just means that it’s not as good as its competitors, which in this day and age is hard to do.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Disney has taken the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” idiom to heart with the Blu-ray release of “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.” Following a superb, four-disc extended edition that featured hours of bonus material, the HD re-release replicates the experience (along with a new role-playing game called “Battle for Narnia”) in a two-disc set. Headlining the list of extras are two audio commentaries (one with director Andrew Adamson and the four child stars, and another with Adamson and production designer Roger Ford and producer Mark Johnson) and the making-of featurette “Visualizing ‘The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe’.” The commentary tracks are both solid complements to the film, while the making-of featurette runs just under two-and-a-half hours long and mixes interviews, production stills and video alongside the actual film so that fans can witness the many layers that go into making a movie of this proportion. And if neither of these is your cup of tea (or Turkish Delight, for that matter), then the “Discover Narnia” feature is another great way of accessing facts about the book via pop-up trivia.
A good chunk of the bonus material is dedicated to behind-the-scenes production featurettes, which have been divided into two categories: “Creating Narnia” and “Creatures, Lands & Legends.” The first section includes a 38-minute featurette on the director (“Chronicle of a Director”), a documentary on the four child actors (“The Children’s Magical Journey”), and a four-part making-of (“Evolution of an Epic") which includes a scene breakdown of the Melting River sequence and a series of brief featurettes that show how some of the different creatures were developed. The second part, “Creatures, Lands & Legends,” goes into more detail on the creation of Narnia (“Creatures of the World”) and also includes a 3D map of the land, as well as a cool “Legends in Time” feature that uses a timeline to compare the years spent in Narnia to the minutes that pass in England. Additionally, Disney is offering a $10 discount to anyone who already owns one of the previously released sets, so there’s really no reason why any HD fanatic shouldn’t pick this up.