I haven’t read any of these books, but I can always be suckered into a good fantasy movie with lots of special effects, and at holiday time one is especially vulnerable to pageant-type movies about childhood, that are going to promise some kind of tepid life lessons, a lot of wonderment, and leave you feeling like you spent your afternoon or evening well. Until you go home and the dishes are still in the sink. And they kind of smell.
But anyway. I’m going to attempt to avoid the whole marketing angle to this movie, the whole ‘start a franchise’ thing Disney is obviously going for, hoping to have a Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Passion of the Christ all rolled into one. I can only imagine how many times the word “synergy” was used in THAT powerpoint. So what we’re left with is the movie itself.
We begin with a bombing in London during World War II. I was sure some parent or other was going to buy it in this first scene, but surprise, the mother lives, her life bought by her husband already being off at war, thus cementing the “missing parent” theme firmly in place. The kids, there are four of them, are soon sent off to live in the countryside. For those who didn’t know, as I didn’t, a majority of the kids from London were sent out to the countryside during the war so they wouldn’t be killed. They arrive at this huge manor home presided by a mean female housekeeper, and a professor, who we are warned about, but turns out to be a big old coot sweetie who believes tales about magical wardrobes and such. Because children are meant to be seen, heard, and… believed.
Anyway, on to the kids. My favorite, and also the front-runner for best actress, is Georgie Henley as Lucy. She is infinitely charming, genuinely sweet, and can act. Dakota Fanning better watch her back. Then there’s Susan, the older girl, who we will cover later, he says ominously. There’s some older boy whose name I forget and don’t care to look up, and the little brother Edmond, an insufferable brat who, because I am not all nice and forgiving like our big fuzzy Jesus, I would prefer to see lying dead.
So the cute Lucy goes through the magical portal and meets a faun that looks an awful lot like a satyr. Their scenes are genuinely sweet, and soon Lucy is back with her siblings and blah blah blah until Edmund goes into the closet with her. He meets the White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton, who is very good but who needs to move away from the “otherworldly women” roles before she gets even more stereotyped. It was nice to see her be just a regular Mom in Thumbsucker, though I would not suggest that anyone subject themselves to that. Anyway, little selfish Edmund rats on the faun for a piece of Turkish Delight [ewww!], and promises to turn the rest of his siblings in for even more candy. In his defense he does not yet know that the witch is going to kill them so they can’t fulfill a prophecy about how humans come and drive out the winter blah blah blah. Tilda had some fabulous costumes throughout, though they get very much the same after a while. I liked the one where her shoulders and bosom make this sort of plateau that her white fur sits on.
So soon enough the other kids get into the wardrobe, and you’re like: That’s it? There’s not going to be some sort of metaphor or some horror in real life that the kids are trying to escape by having this collective fantasy that they’ve been transported to a magical land? The nasty housekeeper, the professor, they aren’t going to mean ANYTHING? And the magic portal? It’s just a portal, supposed to really exist? Well, I guess if you stretch, it’s all about the missing father and the evil mother [though their Mom seemed nice when we saw her], and escaping the horror of war, etc. Maybe a lot of it was in the book and it got left out here.
But who cares when there’s talking beavers? I mean the animal.
Yeah, there’s talking beavers and they tell the kids about the prophecy and all sorts of other exposition, then there’s some adventure stuff, chases, etc., and the kids go off to meet Aslan the Lion-Jesus. OH, I forgot to tell you that the little shit Edmund took off a while ago to go to the White Witch and claim his candy.
So the three kids go off to meet with Aslan the lion in order to rescue Edmund. There are adventures, they meet Santa Claus who gives them all special presents with magical abilities that you KNOW will be used in some capacity or other real soon, and after a few scrapes they meet Aslan, the big lion with Liam Neeson’s voice. This is where it might be most appropriate to say that the special effects here are truly stunning. All of the animals, who are 90% realistic, not cute cartoon animals, are very convincing, none more so than Aslan. You can see the individual texture of the somewhat matted hair in his mane; you can almost feel it. From the moment he came on the screen I had the impulse to reach out and touch him, and it was a satisfying moment a while later when one of the characters finally does touch him. There are only a few gestures here and there that look like “CGI-animal” gestures, but for the most part, this thing is absolutely stunning.
I will also impart that, the cynical tone of most of this review notwithstanding, I was completely transfixed and enchanted by the first 90 minutes of this movie. I was entirely charmed as I have not been since Finding Nemo, and I cannot recall anything I found quite so enthralling before that. The energy dissipated for me during the final 40 minutes, however, leaving me with a somewhat tepid estimation of the entire film.
So toward the end we start trending toward this big war [which takes up the last 20 minutes of the film], and we get the hardcore Christian Allegory stuff. Each of these, I think, is what turned me off. It is impossible to miss the big furry Christ figure right at the center, and it kind of took me out of the story as a whole… it’s like you’re suddenly watching another movie. And then the war… is a snore. I don’t know how many more times we can watch huge armies clash at each other across a big open field. Okay, so this time they’re animals. It’s still the same old thing, and I am completely bored by it.
Before this has happened Aslan sacrifices himself in order to get Edmund back from the White Witch. I totally didn’t think he was worth it. The brat had consistently proven himself to be a wretched, selfish waste in several serious instances, and personally I’d much rather have a big fuzzy Jesus around than him—though in the end I guess we get double coupons, as it were. Then there’s the matter of Susan. She is charming as an actress [all the kids are good, which is a refreshing change], but all her character does is whine, bitch, and tell others what they should do. This is where we get another unpleasant intrusion of the whole Christian viewpoint, as the women here aren’t allowed to do anything except scold and support the men by turns. Susan is given a magical bow and arrow and told that if she trusts it it’ll always hit its target, leading you to think that she might, you know, USE IT at some point. But no, it remains a pretty adornment while she continues whining and bitching and smiling beatifically, but never expressing power of her own. At the VERY end she gets to SHOOT A DWARF, and it is obviously because she has to shoot that stupid thing SOMETIME, but for me it was way too late.
Anyway, so at the end the kids become kings and queens of Narnia—is this a spoiler? It’s predicted 30 minutes into the film—leading me, at least, to think that none of them really deserved it. Certainly not the evil Edmund, the powerless Susan, or the completely blank and bland oldest boy, who is like John Boy Walton’s younger brother. The only one I’d like to see rewarded is little Lucy. Queen Lucy—I’d live under her rule for sure.
Yes, it’s worth seeing. Like I said, I was totally into it for the first 2/3rds, then it lost me.