The lion’s roar softens on screen
Tolkien, the obsessive linguist and cultural perfectionist, set out to produce an epic tale that would become a modern myth. In an incredible feat of imagination, he created an entire world history (later published as “The Silmarillion”) before writing the first story set in Middle Earth. But Lewis was a philosopher and a theologian, a student of human nature rather than of human history. The first “Narnia” book, though it does have an epic battle, is at heart an emotional story of its child heroes.
But the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy made almost three billion dollars worldwide, so Walt Disney’s new “Narnia” fantasy film might easily have lost its soul on the way to the bank. But director Andrew Adamson had the sense to film a faithful, family-friendly adaptation that retains all the intimacy of the book.
In case you missed it, the first volume introduces four young English children who seek refuge from World War II in a country house occupied by an aloof professor, a severe housekeeper and a wardrobe that doubles as a portal to a mythical world called Narnia. As the children are drawn into the land of fawns, dwarves and reindeer, they discover that they’re part of a prophecy to free the Narnians from the manipulative snow queen, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton).
The children have the vast majority of the screen time, and all of them do wonderful work. William Moseley as Peter and Anna Popplewell as Susan convincingly walk the line between children and older siblings forced to grow up too soon, while Skandar Keynes’s Edmund is sympathetic as the insecure middle child and Georgie Henley is an ebullient Lucy. For the supporting animal characters, the voices, animatronics and computer animation come together to retain much of the wit and charm of the original.
C.S. Lewis himself is on record being opposed to any film adaptations of his work. He worried that photography enfeebles the imagination, and frankly, there are moments in the film that made me agree. As a child, I was impressed beyond words with the silent majesty of Aslan and stunned at his death and rebirth. Lewis’s words penetrated my mind and painted a glorious panorama. In the film, when the computer-generated Aslan reappears with the sun at his back, it’s good enough. But any computer-generated lion, no matter how well-done, is destined to disappoint.
Yes, “Narnia” is a wonderful children’s film. But it would be terrible if a child that might otherwise have experience the same awe I did while reading Lewis’s book knew only an Aslan born in a computer animation studio.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Family, Fantasy / English
140 min., Opens Thursday Now playing
by Ben Applegate