U.S. Release Date: December 9, 2005
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Andrew Adamson
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Producer: Mark Johnson
Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson (Voice)
Running Time: 2 hours and 12 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (battle sequences and frightening moments)

Literary Fantasy Adaptation is Christian Tract
by Scott Holleran

Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the first in a series of children's books by C.S. Lewis, puts its religious ideas—faith, sacrifice, selflessness—to graphic images of death, supernaturalism and stark terror, making it inappropriate for young children.

This fanciful Christian propaganda opens with the bombing of London as a mother and her four children run for their lives. Dad's at war when the bombs start falling and middle child Edmund (Skandar Keynes) runs back to grab his father's photograph, prompting older brother Peter (William Moseley) to admonish him for being selfish. The self must be denied, Narnia warns, for the sake of others. Or else.

What an else. But first, we meet the kids when they are sent by their mother to live in the country with an old professor. He lives in a big house with acres of empty rooms and closets and nothing for kids to do. The plot is relatively simple for a time, as the family dynamic takes shape. The youngest child, Lucy (Georgie Henley), represents pure faith and there's a responsible older sister, Susan (Anna Popplewell), and Peter, who is in charge. Selfish Edmund is the demon seed in need of redemption.

When a game of hide and seek leads Lucy into the imposing wardrobe, she steps into Narnia, a fantasy world with fauns, centaurs and an evil white witch (Tilda Swinton, dripping with contempt for children like she eats them for breakfast). Up until now, Lucy is a nice kid, but, like the movie, she grows less benign as she personifies the self-abnegation theme.

The other children follow Lucy through the gateway to snowy Narnia—the prerequisite is faith—and the conflict takes shape, with Edmund willing to sell his family to the witch, Narnia's dictator who has outlawed humans. Director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) makes the most of Lewis' characters in visual terms, though he doesn't linger for longer than a few seconds. Who can blame him? With preachy beavers, a two-faced fox and wolves, who sound like they smoke two packs a day, it would all seem a little ridiculous if kept on too long.

In fact, it does, with Narnia looking fake, though Adamson keeps it relatively convincing by moving things along at a brisk pace. The story remains intact, such as it is, with Narnians prattling on about a prophecy and someone named Aslan, a lion king (voiced by Liam Neeson) who uses mystical powers only after most of Narnia has already dropped dead. Rock bottom is reached when Santa Claus drops in looking like something the reindeer dragged in and sounding more like Oprah than a jolly old elf.

Bad Edmund gets what he has coming (by the movie's morality), which means he is undeservedly forgiven in the next instant, this being a Christian picture. Like religion, this winter wonderland is arbitrary but, on its own terms, the fantasy falls apart.

Dependable Peter leads his family into harm's way because a couple of beavers told him it's his duty to help others, which makes it still harder to accept nebulous Narnia as worth the lives of four children. The faun who befriended Lucy wanted to turn her in, the centaur had a tough time taking a liking to Peter, who's been designated the future king, and all Aslan seems to do is negotiate with the enemy and sacrifice himself. The humans are not much better; Susan, the smart sister, abandons reason, Peter is hell-bent on risking the family for Narnia and, by now, Lucy is grating on the nerves. It seems poor Edmund, imprisoned by the witch, only wanted some candy.

The big battle, with mixed match-ups and acts of valor that make no sense, is a bust. Narnia's greatest asset—Swinton as the white witch—is undone by overproduced fight photography, engaging her sword against a child in slow motion, forced to waste her best efforts at wickedness in a few moments that make her look like she's Tina Turner from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome auditioning for Madonna's Vogue video.

None of it is pretty, even when it's supposed to be, let alone exalted. Despite Adamson's mitigating efforts, Narnia stands for death, destruction and renunciation of self in a poorly disguised Christian fairy tale.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
The computer-generated/live action Christian fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is brought to DVD in a flashy two-disc collector's edition that also shows director Andrew Adamson's mild mannered side.

The extras are relatively standard fare—scattered, short features with loud music and fast cuts—that is logically organized and recognizes the movie's literary origins. It's hard to get excited about a movie disc's scene selections but so many of them appear in tiny pictures and small type and fade into an indistinguishable background that this DVD's clear labels and screen captures stand out.

The only thing missing is the movie's philosophy. Instead, it's regarded as fantasy and that's treated as self-evident. Even the profile of British novelist C. S. Lewis, From One Man's Mind, which runs under five minutes, is evasive about his views on religion, asserting that he was "informed by his faith".

Yet the movie stands for self-sacrifice, as Adamson and others admit, with the animated lion Aslan representing "selflessness." The White Witch, as actress Tilda Swinton points out, has "no sense of social responsibility".

Features are predominantly effects-related, though there are rewards for Narnia readers, including a map and rich voice readings over dramatic drawings. The longest piece is a 37-minute director's profile that's strictly behind the scenes.

An audio commentary by the actors who portray the four kids is a snooze—they giggle a lot—and a separate commentary track with Adamson and others is mostly technical, not story or character driven. It is telling, as producer Mark Johnson expresses delight that kids jumped in their seats when the wolves attack the girls, and they crow about special effects in a movie with a vermin-infested animal sacrifice in a winter wonderland governed by some mystical thing called Deep Magic. This premiere collector's edition DVD sufficiently chronicles the blockbuster's spectacle.

Harry Potter / Goblet of Fire
In Part Four, Potter Remains Murky
Harry Potter / Azkaban
Welcome Back, Potter
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Not Much Princely About Christian Sequel
Board Game Fantasy is Candy-Coated Fun
Return of the King
A Decent End to An Epic Trilogy
Shrek 2
Happily Ever Askew... Again