Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, Tilda Swinton, James Cosmo, Dawn French, Ray Winstone, James McAvoy
Running time: 140 mins
Based on C.S. Lewis beloved novel, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe follows the adventures of the Pevensie children – Lucy (Henley), Edmund (Keynes), Susan (Popplewell) and Peter (Moseley). Evacuated from World War II London, they are packed off to live with the mysterious Professor Kirke (Broadbent). During a game of hide and seek Lucy stumbles across a mystical land inside a wardrobe. After a while her siblings join her and find the formerly happy land cursed to a perpetual winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis (Swinton). Prophesied to be the saviours of the land from its troubles, the four children set about freeing Narnia from its curse with the help of a messianic lion, Aslan.
The acting is strong across the board, and refreshingly so from the four children, with Georgie Henley thankfully managing to get away with being charming without becoming too sickly while Skandar Keynes portrays Edmund’s transition from duplicitous brother to honourable warrior believably and with subtlety. Although it’s generally easy to moan about child actors, it is truly harder to do so in this case, especially if you compare the quality with the earlier Harry Potter screen outings. Swinton gives a chilling and understated interpretation of Jadis and James McAvoy gives a likeable performance as good-hearted faun Mr Tumnus. Ray Winstone and Dawn French provide comic relief voicing a pair of beavers guiding the children on their way.
Equally, the movie also looks wonderful, both in terms of landscape and CGI. The snow-covered scenery, along with an effective musical score provide atmosphere throughout, whilst Aslan is the finest example of the animation department’s prowess. His movement and expressions are laudably accurate and his interaction with his bipedal companions is flawless. The special effects really comes into its own in an imaginative but bloodless battle scene towards the end of the movie in which dwarves, centaurs, fauns, giants, phoenixes and gryphons clash – director Adamson was provided with a wealth of creatures from the Narnia universe (even more so than The Lord of the Rings) which he exploits to the full here.
However, even with this battle, the film never seems to have that epic feel which you’d be forgiven for expecting of a film of almost two and a half hours, a plethora of creatures and a fight of good against evil. This is partly down to the scale of the land itself – one end seems to be walking distance from the other. Also preventing the movie from being as epical as it might is the fact that Jadis never really seems that much of a threat, particularly when Aslan is portrayed as such a Jesus-like figure. The fact that it’s a foregone conclusion as to who will come out on top detracts from any sense of tension and excitement in wishing for the underdog in the climactic battle scene, since the villain has been the underdog for most of the duration.
Finally, C.S. Lewis was a devoted Christian and his books have an underlying Christian theme. It’s therefore unsurprising that the allegory also translates into Adamson’s adaptation, though it's unfortunate that it’s dealt with so heavy-handedly. Having a subtle message is all very well but in one scene in particular the film tries so hard to give a hellish feel that it simply fails to be frightening. Again, this lack of subtlety over the messiah Aslan does little to keep us wondering who will prevail.
All-in-all though, the movie brings out the sense of enchantment and adventure of Lewis’ books with some fine performances and an easy-to-follow (or predictable) storyline and is certainly worth a watch. Quick tip – don’t walk off as soon as the credits roll.