starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell
screenplay by Ann Peacock and Andrew Adamson and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
directed by Andrew Adamson
by Walter Chaw I'm offended by the marketing for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (hereafter Narnia 1)--not the trailers (which are pedestrian) or the print ads, per se, but the campaign to pre-screen reels to churches and church groups, including Colorado's wildly divisive rightwing activist organization Focus on the Family. It's not something I'm terribly surprised to see from Walden Media--but it's something that strikes me as peculiar coming from the gay-friendly Walt Disney Pictures, a studio currently "suffering" a boycott from Focus on the Family that aims, in part, to force Disney to explain their "Jekyll and Hyde" products and policies. Of the two hypocrisies, fiduciary vs. ideological, I guess I'd favour one over the other, not being in the business of weighing sins, as it were.
Safe to say that things always get knotty when you seek to turn faith into something you can vote on, purchase, or barter for box-office returns. If my kids were of an age that the film might interest them, as a good parent, its proselytizing promotion and the quality of some of the people it seeks to engulf into its voluminous fold would be enough for me to turn them away from it. Despite my lingering affection for C.S. Lewis and his seven books set in the magical land of Narnia, if I weren't paid to go, I probably wouldn't have bothered seeing it, secure in the knowledge that the books are for kids and that the filmmakers think that Dr. James Dobson and his flock are its ideal audience handily cuts me out of any kind of possibility for connection with the film. And it would please me to no end, you know, to report that Narnia 1 is utter garbage, as simpleminded, hateful, and exclusionary as much of the audience that has been courted by the film's handlers. But it's not--in fact it's rather dull: there are no "tingle" moments to sell it as a great epic, and its allegorical elements are broad and possible to ignore if you're inclined to do so. Its greatest crime, though, is only that it's so well-behaved, so minor, that it fails to set the house on fire.
Four British kids are displaced by the Blitz to the towering mansion of a mysterious Professor (Jim Broadbent), where they find themselves out of harm's way but bored out of their minds. Eldest boy Peter (William Moseley) and girl Susan (Anna Popplewell) do their best to keep disturbed middle child Edmund (Skandar Keynes) from teasing youngest Lucy (Georgie Henley) to death. For her part, Lucy discovers a dusty wardrobe in an abandoned room in the house and, through it, finds her way into an enchanted winter wonderland and the good graces of satyr (I mean "faun") Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy). Edmund follows, turned traitor by the Jadis (Tilda Swinton), the White Witch, for a few bites of Turkish Delight, and then Peter and Susan take the plunge--the foursome the fulfillers of a prophecy, as well as the key players in a looming war between Jadis and the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), who sacrifices himself for Edmund's sins, only to be resurrected and lead his holy army in battle against the forces of evil. The lion is a symbol of Christ in the Bible ("the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5:5)), but it's also a symbol of Satan (1 Peter 5:8, Psa 10:8:11)--I think the question is one of pride and, thinking that, I do begin to wonder how it is that no one else sees the irony of Christian groups (AFA and Southern Baptists, too) and boycotts.
The problem with Narnia 1 has to do with scope. The whole world of the picture is like the Hundred Acre Wood (which seems big when you're a kid), populated with talking beavers and mythological creatures that, cast in a Christian parable, should probably watch their asses. But such is a large part of the appeal of Lewis writing: that he's able to make Christianity a faith based on inclusion and acceptance, with the imagination and agility to absorb pagan fertility rites, ritualized cannibalism, and the veneration of evergreen trees into their own rather staid rituals. As this series of books was self-consciously written for a young audience, however, its resolutions are as unsurprising as its execution is workmanlike and perfunctory. The performances are mostly lifeless and the film moves along without much of a knack for pacing or rhythm; the best single word to describe it is "childish." Still, Narnia 1 addresses issues of honour and betrayal without talking down to its audience: Edmund does wrong and his acceptance back into the fold of the righteous doesn't come with fanfare, but through self-sacrifice, humility, and the subdued, natural acquiescence of familial love. In terms of a message of tolerance and meekness, in other words, it beats the righteous hell out of a lot of the people so busy congratulating themselves on their own holiness that they've muscled their way to the front of the ticket line. Narnia 1 is no great victory for the Right, no "Passion of the Putty-Tat," but rather just another mediocre fantasy epic in love with the same tired images and limping narrative. One down, six more to go. Originally published: December 9, 2005.