C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series about the mystical land of Narnia has been a favorite of children for decades, and following the success of fellow author (and friend) J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” movies, it’s hardly surprising that the first book in his series is finally getting the Hollywood treatment. Saddled with the ungainly title, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the movie tells the story of the four Pevensie children – elder son Peter, no-nonsense older daughter Susan, petulant Edmund, and insatiably curious Lucy – who find themselves accidentally thrust into this alternate world and the wacky adventures that result.
At the outset, we see the Blitz is raging in London, rendering the city somewhat unsafe for children. Therefore Mrs. Pevensie (her husband is off fighting the Hun) sends the kids to the country where they are taken in by the mysterious Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). While exploring his cavernous mansion, young Lucy (Georgie Henley) discovers an antique wardrobe that proves to lead to the aforementioned land of fauns, witches, and talking beavers.
Eventually, all four children make their way through the
looking glass wardrobe and into Narnia, where they discover they are the ones prophesied to deliver the realm from the clutches of the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton). To this end, they join forces with the lion Aslan (Liam Neeson) and his army of furry animals and man-beasts for the final showdown.
“Narnia” works best when it sticks to those aspects of the story that appeal most to children, such as the fantastic hidden within the mundane, and the concept of adventure independent of adults. The plot is no great shakes: evil witch chases kids > kids run > kids team up with lion and fight witch. Younger children getting in on the ground floor of fantasy will enjoy the film, and they’ll identify with Henley’s Lucy (who is so cute you’re like to puke). Swinton’s Witch is scary, but not Nazgul scary, and the battle scenes are remarkably free of blood. Anyone over the age of 10 will be mildly entertained, but are unlikely to find it very groundbreaking.
Much of the ballyhoo surrounding “Narnia,” as you may have heard, comes from Lewis’ use of Christian themes in the original book: Aslan is Christ and the children are the disciples, with Edmund as Judas (although unlike Edmund, Judas never took up arms to fight the Romans), and the girls following the New Testament female role of being the first to see Aslan’s resurrection. Still, the movie seems to have played much of this down (no references to the Trinity, for example), even if it is hard to ignore Aslan continually referring to the Pevensie children as “son of Adam” and “daughter of Eve,” or his annoying Christ-like tendency to forgive everyone, then rise from the dead.
Then again, Disney – in attempt to kiss two a***s at once – is mass marketing the film as secular children’s fantasy while simultaneously promoting it among evangelical churches, going so far as to hire the same marketing firm that did the advance work for “The Passion of the Christ.” Lewis and his children denied “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” was a Christian story for years, even though recently discovered letters from Lewis himself seem to refute this. The debate continues.
Ultimately, I don’t think it matters all that much for purposes of watching the movie, but for those of you who simply have to obsess over this s**t, I’ve helpfully compiled a comprehensive list of all the Christian references in “Narnia.” No need to thank me:
1. Aslan tells Peter “That’s when I was carrying you” when the boy asks him why there was just one set of footprints on the Eastern Shore.
2. Davey and Goliath briefly seen fighting a minotaur during the final battle.
3. In a deleted scene filmed by guest director Mel Gibson, the White Queen flogs Aslan for 78 minutes before stabbing him.
4. Oreius and the rest of the centaurs break into a rousing rendition of “Day by Day” to motivate the troops.
5. Brief shot of Peter Sellers walking on the surface of the river.
6. The four children are joined by a fifth named Rufus, played by Lil’ Bow Wow.
7. Talking animals devoured by crudely drawn fish emblazoned with the word “Truth.”
8. The White Witch ignores the mob’s plea to “Wewease Aswan!”
9. Failure of hurricane to hit New Zealand during filming confirms Pat Robertson’s assertion that God really does prefer wholesome family entertainment.
10. Lucy convinces Faun Tumnus to bring her the head of Mr. Beaver.
That ought to clear things up.
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