Just so you know: Disney is back in the game.
With the release of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” the company has effectively thrown that famous mouse-eared hat into the lucrative magic and fantasy ring, a genre made more popular than ever by the Harry Potter franchise and “Lord of The Rings” trilogy. Depending on the public’s response to this first installment, Disney is poised to bring the whole of “The Chronicles of Narnia” to life. With any luck, we’ll be feasting on magical Narnian Turkish Delight for years to come.
Based on C.S. Lewis’ classic novel, the film opens with the four Pevensie children Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy being rushed off to the country for safekeeping during the bombing raids of World War II. In the expansive house of the kindly professor with whom they’re boarding, the children fall upon a magic wardrobe, which leads them into the fantastical land of Narnia, where animals speak, trees whisper and the self-proclaimed Queen has sentenced the inhabitants to eternal winter.
But from the moment that Lucy first steps through the wardrobe, into that magical snowy forest, the presence of the Pevensie children threatens the Queen’s grip on the land. There’s a prophecy that the Narnians — lining up on the well-marked sides of Good and Evil — either expect the Pevensie children to fulfill or intend to prevent them from fulfilling. Soon, they find themselves in the midst of a struggle between the Witch Queen and Aslan, the oft-absent but true ruler of Narnia.
As with any morality play, the delivery is heavy-handed at times and only the troubled Edmund manages human shades of gray in a black-and-white world. The allegorical relationship between Aslan and Christ is made painfully clear and might have fared better with a lighter touch. Still, what “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” lacks in nuance and complexity, it makes up for with compelling characters and breathtaking landscapes.
Visually, the film is stunning. From the shaggy coats of its CGI wolves to the fully-realized centaurs and griffins in battle gear, the special effects are otherworldly. The chilling brilliance of Tilda Swinton as the evil Queen and the wide-eyed wonder of Georgie Henley as Lucy will remind audiences that the worth of any story is its ability to create an emotional response.
Those who cut their literary teeth on “The Chronicles” will sit smugly in their seats, whispering “It’s about time.” Quite frankly it is the perfect time for Narnia to come alive.
Even 10 years ago, this vision of Lewis’ mystical Narnia would have been impossible to translate to film with any measure of realism. It is the technological advances of the film industry that have allowed director Andrew Adamson of “Shrek” fame to bring this cast of talking fauns, beavers and one heroic Lion King to life. This is a film whose time has come, and it is none too soon to save Christmas.