The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Long before Harry Potter, there was The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis' beloved seven-novel fantasy series that also served as an allegory for Christianity (he was a noted Christian theologian who happened to convince some guy named J.R.R. Tolkien to become a Christian). It was only a matter of time before a new interpretation would come to the big screen, both because today's special effects can make Lewis' magical world vividly come to life, and because no company can resist a potential cash cow of a franchise. So how does Lion stack up to the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies? It doesn't. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is decent, but doesn't rise to the necessary heights that would make it a great movie.

Most of this is due to the emotion, or lack thereof in the film. The other franchises invest a lot into its characters. When somebody comes close to dying, or something dangerous happens, the viewer holds his/her breath along with the other characters. It really matters what happens to these people, because the filmmakers were able to build up a sense of empathy. That is lacking here. By the end of the film, when the rollercoaster of emotions are running high, the viewer doesn't care that much about the four protagonists. This stems from director Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2). This is his first live action feature, and he still has a ways to go in terms of directing live actors. The performances are all over the place. None are bad, but none are truly convincing. Adamson also falls back on some of his Shrek habits by inserting in a few too many one-liners, more prevalent in the first half of the film.

And the first half is a pretty big drag. Yes, Adamson and co-writers Ann Peacock (In My Country), Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are setting up a new world, but the pace is slow and there is not much happening, even after the kids enter Narnia. World War II is encroaching upon England, and Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Me Without You), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) are sent to live in the country with a mysterious Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent, Valiant, Robots). In his large house, Lucy finds a wardrobe in an abandoned room. When she enters, she finds that it is a door to another world. There, she meets Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy, Wimbledon, Bright Young Things), a faun. Her siblings do not believe her fantastical story. Narnia is under the thrall of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton, Broken Flowers, Constantine), and has been in perpetual winter for over one hundred years. An old prophecy states than when two "sons of Adam" and "two daughters of Eve" arrive, the Witch's reign will end. Soon, Peter, Susan and Edmund make their way into Narnia. Their very arrival begins to fulfill the prophecy, and they soon find themselves fighting (reluctantly at first) alongside the great lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson, Batman Begins, Kingdom of Heaven) to defeat the witch.

The switch between wary kids and hardened fighters happens pretty quickly. It is not believable, especially later in the film. These kids want the war to end so they can reunite with their father, but the story conveniently forgets this. The latter part of Lion is a large epic battle with lots of bloodless (hey, it is rated PG) death. The allusions to Christianity are pretty obvious, but Adamson does not hit people over the head with them. The morals integrate into the story well, and Lion never even comes close to being preachy. In fact, there will probably be some people (those completely unfamiliar with the film) that do not realize that one can draw moral teachings from the plot.

Technically, this is a proficient film. The CGI, used a bit too much with various animals in Aslan and the Witch's army, looks realistic. Aslan's mane is exceptionally detailed, and the transition from human to horse of goat on the fauns and centaurs look seamless. Everything else looks good, but not exceptional, especially when the scope is large, like in the large battles near the end. And this is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in a nutshell - it's decent, but not anything exceptional.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 12 minutes, Rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments.

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