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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Movie Review

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Author/Source: Frank Tan

Topic: Movie Reviews

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe lives up to its promise as one of the most anticipated movies of the year, bringing to the big screen the first of the seven beloved children’s tales by C.S. Lewis.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Movie Review

The movie is opening with great expectations. Christians are looking forward to a “Christian” fantasy epic movie to rival The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter series. They also hope this will be the first of seven movies to be made.

Disney is hoping that the movie will sell well, both among Christians and non-Christians. Disney has yet to have a hit movie franchise in the fantasy genre, and would very much desire this to be it. They’re investing $150 million to find out. Sales of The Chronicles of Narnia books, which now stands at 85 million copies and second only to the Harry Potter series, will receive a boost with the movie’s premiere.

Many non-Christians are rediscovering their love for the fantasy world of Narnia as well. One atheist shared that he read the books as a child, loved them. But when he grew up, he learned that the books were a thinly-veiled version of Christianity and spent a lot of effort “trying to get it out of his system.” However, seeing the live-action movie is rekindling the childlike fascination for this fantasy world. Not everyone is happy though to see the movie made, and controversies already abound about whether the movie is abused by Christians to teach more than what the author intended.

Synopsis

Based on the second book in the Narnia chronology (though Lewis wrote this one first), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells the story of four children who pass through a special wardrobe and discover the kingdom of Narnia. Narnia is a land of talking animals and mythical creatures under the White Witch's spell of everlasting winter. Fearing that an ancient prophecy has come true, and that the children are Narnia's chosen rulers, the witch tricks the youngest brother into betraying his family. Only Aslan, the true King of Narnia, can help them defeat the wtich and restore Narnia and help them claim their places on the thrones.

Narnia fans will appreciate the overall fidelity to the book by director Andrew Adamson, though he does add additional scenes such as the Blitzkreig in the film’s opening, the chase by the wolves, the extended battle scenes (in the book it is a mere 1.5 pages), The movie touts excellent CGI special efects by some of the same crew who work on The Lord of the Rings. Incidentally, most of the movie was filmed on location in New Zealand, similar to LOTR.

Personal Take

I have been a Narnia fan ever since I read the books when I was 13 years old. I was so fascinated by Lewis’ books that I went on to read his other fiction (Science Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, The Dark Tower, etc.). I have seen the BBC movies and the animated version. This movie by Walden Media and Disney is easily the best movie version.

The movie is rated PG and while there are plenty of battle scenes, the emphasis is on action and not gore, hardly any blood at all. I watched the movie during an early preview screening in Houston held by Disney and Disney Radio. There were plenty of young children but I remember only one boy crying. He was approximately two or three years old and was probably tired. The movie is over 130 minutes long. Children who are familiar with the Narnia story will have no problem getting absorbed in the story. I would say that young boys would probably like the movie better than younger girls. This is because the movie is presented as action, with the Battle of Beruna as the climax of the movie. In the book, the emphasis is more on Aslan’s sacrifice at the Stone Table, but the movie gives equal weight to both the Stone Table and the the battle scenes.

The CG animation is excellent and many of the creatures from Narnian lore as well as additional ones from the director and scriptwriter’s imagination are done realistically. The CG-created Aslan delivers as both awe-inspiring ("raaaaaarrrrr!!!") as well as approachable. The dialogue is very good, with touches of humor added in several instances.

Spoilers and Possible Disappointments for Narnia Purists

The theatrical license taken is acceptable in general. The following are notable changes in the movie that are different from the book:

  • Opening scene of the Blitzkrieg (bombing over London) which is implied but not described in the book.
  • When Lucy finds the wardrobe, it is covered by a large cloth.
  • The much-quoted description by C.S. Lewis of the children’s reactions at the first mention of Aslan’s name did not fare well in the movie. The camera panned over the children’s faces, but they could not emote through the film the same kind of thoughts that Lewis wrote about.
  • The conversation between the children and Mr. Beaver is cut short, omitting the part where Aslan is revealed to be a lion and the children worry if he was safe, and Mr. Beaver answering, “ ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
  • The three siblings followed Edmund and watches from a distance as he enters the White Witch’s castle.
  • An exciting chase through the woods and the river by Maugrim and the wolves.
  • Edmund and Mr. Tumnus meeting in the White Witch’s dungeon before the faun is turned to stone.
  • The army of Aslan is camped all throughout at the Fords of Beruna in the movie while in the book they were originally camped at the Stone Table but moved away later.
  • The meeting of the White Witch and the forest creatures is omitted from the movie. Instead, the fox plays a role in misleading the wolves during the chase.
  • In the movie, Aslan explains his resurrection as part of the Deep Magic which is written on the Stone Table but the White Witch failed to understand. In the book, Aslan explains that his resurrection is part of the Deeper Magic From Before the Dawn of Time that the White Witch did not know about.
  • Mr. Tumnus’ statue is in the courtyard along with the other statues and he is the first to be revived by Aslan. The book has Mr. Tumnus located upstairs in the castle and being revived later.
  • When Aslan leaves Narnia after the coronation, instead of Mr. Beaver explaining that Aslan’s “not a tame lion,” Mr. Tumnus relates this to Lucy.
  • Douglas Gresham, step-son of C.S. Lewis, who serves as a producer in the film, relates one dialogue that was changed: “… battles are ugly when women fight” changed to “… battles are ugly.” (I did not notice this in the movie when I watched it.) In the movie, the two Pevensie sisters do not join the battle, but many other Narnian womenfolk do.

For me, the major departure from the book is the film’s development of the main characters. When I read the book, it seemed to me that the main character is always Aslan and I got to know him through the initial mention of his name, his first meeting with the children, and so on. The children for me are the supporting cast. But in the movie, Aslan’s dialogue is minimal and the children are the ones presented with well-developed characterization. They changed and grow through their experiences in Narnia.

Peter feels burdened with his responsibility of being oldest and is anxious whether he could fulfill, first, his mother’s trust and then second, Aslan’s charge to him, grows in his confidence both as a warrior and a leader. Edmund is first introduced as a misfit among his siblings and makes the mistake of letting his greed take over his good sense. He later learns the tragic consequences of his mistake and becomes just as valiant as Peter and is pivotal in his selfless actions that turned the tide of the battle. Susan is pragmatic and cautious, who prefers the safety of the Professor’s house in the countryside than to assuming responsibility of fulfilling the prophecy. She learns from Lucy’s example to accept her role in Narnia.

Lucy is the girl whose face of wonder when she first steps into the magical world of Narnia is my favorite scene of the movie. (I read that they flew Georgie Henley to another location that was snowing. She was blindfolded and the cameras were rolling as the blindfold was taken off, capturing her surprise and wonder at the snowy wonderland.) She shows unprejudiced friendship with the faun and open trust of Aslan and the Narnians, and still later, the greatest empathy and love for Aslan.

Considerations to Take Into Account Before Viewing

C.S. Lewis was a professor of medieval literature and a lover of all sorts of mythology. The Chronicles of Narnia are replete with mythological creatures (i.e., dryads, naiads, fauns, centaurs, flying horse, unicorns, werewolves, giants, ogres, trolls, witches, dwarves, Father Christmas, etc). Some depiction of the White Witch’s army can be scary, but the camera doesn’t dwell on them.

While Christians may be eager to draw conclusions comparing Aslan to Jesus, we should remember that the the teaching aim is not to get children worshipping Aslan. Aslan is still a figment of the imagination, albeit a very Christlike imaginary redeemer-figure. Instead, the best explanation for your children is to acknowledge that Aslan and Narnia are fantasy and as such, imaginary. Focus the moral on Edmund’s sin and what was required to bring forgiveness.

Don’t try to draw analogies from every detail in the book to the Christian life. The Chronicles of Narnia are also not meant to be theological books. C.S. Lewis, while being an excellent Christian writer who is able to articulate well his beliefs in layman’s terms, did have some theological notions that not all evangelicals would agree with.

Ministry Application

One way of drawing positive teaching from the movie is to have children identify themselves with the four Pevensie children and how they grow or change. Peter is noble and a protector, but he dislikes Edmund and easily “gets cross” with him. Susan is overly cautious and is not willing to respect Peter’s leadership. She eventually learns to trust Aslan’s arrangement and the words of the prophecy. Edmund is selfish and greedy in the beginning but acquits himself in the end with his selfless act to save Peter from the White Witch. Lucy’s trust and love of Aslan is an example to children of trust in God.

While comparisons have been made to Edmund as the betrayer (“Judas”), he is probably more like the disciple Peter. Peter betrayed Jesus but was restored. Edmund also finds restoration. Another spiritual comparison is that Edmund is the prodigal son in Luke 15. Note the differences between Peter Pevensie and the prodigal’s brother.

There are many other ways that this movie could be used in children's ministry. The character of Aslan and his Christlike qualities can be explored to teach about Christ. I worry though about constantly pointing a line from Aslan to Jesus for children. The lesson is best learned when they discover it on their own. When my children heard the story (through Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre audio CD version), my daughter Anne (then 8-years old) was the one who drew the comparison rather than my pointing it out to them.


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