"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", directed by Andrew Adamson, is a delightful holiday film. Based on the first of a series of books by C.S. Lewis, the film captures the wonder of children, the danger of conflict and has a fairy tale quality throughout.
Adamson, who co-wrote and co-directed both of the "Shrek" films, has created a very realistic fairy tale world. If you have read any of the classic fairy tales, you probably remember that they are quite a bit darker than the Disney films. "Narnia" starts in World War II London; the city being bombed by airplanes, people running to shelters. Quickly, we see concerned parents bundling their children off to homes in the country. All of this is based on fact and helps to establish the tone and time of the period. Of course, it helps that this world is gray and bleak and contrasts greatly with the world they will soon encounter. Because of this reality, we are more inclined to "believe" the world of Narnia can actually exist. All of this helps to establish the film as a fairy tale; the dark beginnings leading to a world of fantasy.
Even better yet, there is real danger in the fantasy world. Upon entering Narnia, some of the children receive treats and tea, but their entire stay doesn't consist of eating candy. They quickly learn that Narnia has dangers, similar to the dangers in their real world, and they have to work together to help Narnia overcome the dark forces.
The four children are all very good, but the story centers on the two youngest children. Little Lucy (Henley), the first to enter Narnia, proves to be sweet and trusting, so sweet and trusting that she can't understand why Tumnus would initially try and trick her. Because of her character, Tumnus agrees to help her get back to the wardrobe setting other events in motion. As though he is helping them with their destiny.
Edmund (Keynes) is the other standout. Initially enticed by the White Witch's promises, he readily agrees to bring his siblings back because he feels like the middle child he is; he resents his older brother and feels his sisters are a nuisance. Turn them in to become king of Narnia? No problem. But when he begins to realize the White Witch will not live up to her promise, he realizes he has to help his brother and sisters. He has to become their ally, friend and brother. Edmund is the most complex of the children and the most interesting.
Tilda Swinton is great as the White Witch. She is very even, but also very menacing and has some wicked costumes. When she initially meets Edmund, she seems like a kind aunt, but as the story progresses, we realize she is very evil and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She accomplishes this through words and subtle actions instead of histrionics. The costume designers on this film sure had some fun. Her dresses are severe and uncomfortable looking and add immeasurably to her character. Only a wicked witch would wear similar clothing.
With "King Kong" and now "Narnia" it is evident the state of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery or Animation) has advanced to a mind-boggling stage. Jackson's Kong was so realistic, I felt I was watching a human being. In "Narnia", Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the Lion ruler of the good, is also extremely realistic; he slowly blinks, showing his age, his impatience with people, his tiredness. He walks slowly, his haunches moving in such a way that I felt I was watching a lion who could speak. There are a number of animals in the film who can speak and all appear realistic. It is really amazing how advanced this technique has become in a relatively short time period. But as they keep raising the bar, other filmmakers will have to meet these standards or their films will suffer as a result. If they can make an ape and a lion this believable, we better not be subjected to any other cheap-looking or unbelievable computer generated creations.
As the story progresses, it becomes pretty clear events are leading to a big battle and the four children will be involved, with Peter leading the charge. You might naturally expect a battle of this type to be "sanitized" as it features children and Disney is releasing the film. I was surprised to see that it was very lifelike. People die, the children are in danger as they battle the enemy, and they are threatened by others. The film doesn't show a lot of blood, or swords slicing through bodies, but this isn't necessary to show a sense of menace. We see the beginning of an action, but the film avoids the gorier aspects. Kids in the audience can see that battle is scary and dangerous, without being subjected to the blood and gore other films would show. This may seem like a cop-out, but remember this is a family film, so it is a little odd that these types of scenes are included at all. As a fairy tale, they fit.
I am familiar with author C.S. Lewis and the "Chronicles of Narnia", but have never read them. You may have heard that there are religious overtones throughout the book and the film. There may be, but I am not overly familiar with religious traditions and practices, so I didn't spot a lot of overt imagery or themes. The few I did recognize didn't bother me. My mother noticed many mother and it didn't seem to bother her. If you are not religious, it probably won't bother you either. You definitely should not stay away from "Narnia" because you may be weary of overt religious messages. The messages may be there, but they are integrated into the story well enough to not seem blatant and obtrusive.
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" is an extremely well-made film and a film suitable for the entire family.