The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe about four children who travel through a wardrobe to the magical land of Narnia where animals talk and an evil ice queen has taken power, labors under the shadow of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson’s take on the world of the Rings set the benchmark for fantasy on film, and while Narnia gets most of it right, I was left with a feeling of been there, done that.
Director Andrew Adamson has extensive experience in animation, having helmed both the Shrek movies, and seems most comfortable with the non-human characters. The film doesn’t really take off until twenty minutes in when we meet Tumnus, a faun who meets the daughter of Eve, Lucy, on her first visit to Narnia. It’s a complicated performance from actor James McAvoy who is at once devious and conniving, but also kind and compassionate.
The stand-out performance, however, is Tilda Swinton’s wicked portrayal of the White Witch. Disney has frequently featured mean characters, but this Witch makes Cruella DeVille look like Mary Poppins. She’s the Queen of Mean—she lies to kids, is unkind to animals and treats her underlings like dirt under her heal. Oh, and she has turned the entire country of Narnia into an icy prison, enslaving its inhabitants who long for the return of Aslan the lion king. She’s bound to inspire a nightmare or two.
Less successful is Adamson’s work with the four human kids who stumble into Narnia. William Mosely, who plays the oldest boy Peter, resembles England’s Prince William, but has little of his look-a-like’s charm. Of the quartet only Georgie Henley as young Lucy charms.
The CG’d animals—Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Alsan and the wolves—feature good voice work, but uneven animation. Aslan is photo realistic, while the Beavers look like refugees from a cheesy children’s storybook.
Adamson has been very faithful to the classic children’s book by CS Lewis, retelling the story in a way that should keep fans of the source material happy, although I think some of the whimsy of the book has been lost in the translation. Narnia, as presented, is sort of a Lord of the Rings for kids, an epic story of good verses evil, but nowhere near as memorable as Jackson’s films.