Sorry, R. Kelly…four children trapped in the closet isn’t what you think. It’s Andrew Adamson’s long-awaited version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which opened today. I was a Middle Earth kid growing up — I only read the Narnia books once, and I don’t even think I read them all. Still, the movie mostly accords with my memories and impressions of C.S. Lewis’s world. The film isn’t nearly as resonant as PJ’s Rings trilogy, and it’s also much more obviously aimed at kids. But those hold true for Lewis’s tomes as well, and if nothing else Adamson has provided us with a faithful, A-list adaptation of an enduring classic of children’s literature.
The story is thus: The four Pevensie children, sent to the labyrinthine country manor of their professor uncle in order to escape the Nazi bombing of London, encounter within a wardrobe-shaped portal to the magical realm of Narnia. This faerie land, they soon discover, has fallen into a century-long winter due to the machinations of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton, deliciously evil), who now rules with an iron fist (or, alternatively, a velvet glove laden with Turkish Delight.) And the many bizarre residents and talking animals in the land speak not only of a suspiciously Christian lion running around (Liam Neeson in mentor mode) but of a Prophecy involving two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, who will show up to free Narnia from the witch’s influence. This would be all well and good, but young Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes) just can’t seem to get on board with the program…
I’m not going to give away the whole story, suffice to say that everything culminates in an arch-Christian sacrifice and, as back in London, a big battle for the fate of the world (one dominated on both sides by splendid WETA creations, even if all the centaurs began to remind me more of Xanth than Narnia.) Plus, the Pevensies each learn to grapple with their various fears, which is my only real quibble with the movie: The kids are all fine actors (particularly Keynes and Georgie Henley as Lucy, the youngest), but, Edmund excepted, they’re given burdensome character arcs that feel grafted on by Hollywood screenwriters. (Also, while I’m complaining, some of the FX — particularly Rupert Everett’s Fox — are noticeably worse than the rest.)
As for the Christian allegory…well, it’s like Yoda‘s tree: You’ll find in the film only what you take with you. (Indeed, the same goes for Frodo.) Adamson doesn’t shy away from the Aslan-as-Jesus stuff, but he doesn’t wallow in it either, and I suspect it’ll fly over the heads of the movie’s target audience in any case (as it did for me when I first read the book.) But, don’t fret, right-wingers — there are explicit nods to conservative values in the film: Mr. & Mrs. Beaver seem not to mind in the slightest that the Pevensies wear gimongous fur coats in their home, and that interminable pagan Santa shows up to give the children (Narnia-)assault weapons for Christmas. That being said, a public service announcement for any children who happen to come by this site: Stay in school, don’t do drugs, and, whatever this movie seems to suggest, don’t ever accept teatime invitations from strangers, and particularly bare-chested strangers with cloven hooves.