Film Review – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

An Awfully Big Wardrobe

(originally published 12/12/05 on Entertaimentwise.com)

The film starts with a beautifully realised German raid during the blitz, seemingly because the makers could. Our four young heroes are taking cover in the shelter at the bottom of the garden. Edmund, who is a bit of a willful idiot, risks his life going back for a photo of his enlisted dad. “Why can you never do as you’re told?” shouts older brother Peter meaningfully.

All the kids look like rosy Raymond Briggs cartoons. Not a spot between them, they’re all fashionably pale with startlingly huge lips, like a cloning experiment involving Angelina Jolie. All except Edmund, naturally. Thin lips equals a nasty sort.

The kids are subsequently evacuated to the country. It’s all terribly realistic so far, which was how Lord of the Rings managed to get away with all that elvish nonsense. The kids arrive at a great big house. “This place is huge,” one of them states unnecessarily. “We can do whatever we want!” That’s more like it.

Lucy, the youngest. and cuter than a baby penguin (whose real name is, annoyingly, Georgie), suggests playing hide and seek. We know where this is going. She hides out in a bloody great wardrobe and finds that the fur coats slowly turn to fir trees the further back you go. She seems remarkably unbothered by this. ‘”It’s an awfully big wardrobe.”

Calmly accepting the snowbound country around her, she’s not much more surprised when she comes across a faun, played by the guy who was Macbeth in the recent disastrous BBC reinterpretations. He may have had a shave, but there’s no denying that he’s naked from the waist up and a goat from the waist down. I’m sure C.S. Lewis thought it was all terribly innocent.

“Are you a daughter of Eve?” he asks. Ah, that’ll be the religion I’ve heard so much about. I can feel the world falling about my ears. Macbeth tempts her with sardines and explains what’s happening. Narnia is in perpetual winter and hasn’t had Christmas in 100 years. I heard somewhere that Christmas has something to do with Jesus. Will this propaganda never cease?

“You’re the nicest faun I’ve ever met,” says Lucy before heading back to the wardrobe. Of course, none of her family believes a word of it, especially older sister Susan, who, like a lot of elder girls in cosy English children’s fiction, is a housewife-in-waiting. However, Lucy decides to make a return trip that night and shifty Edmund follows her. Big mistake.

Rather than run into a slightly alarming-looking Scottish actor playing nice, he runs into Tilda Swinton as the eponymous witch, whose whole appearance denotes ‘alarming’. She’s odd-looking anyway, but the dresses she wears are downright peculiar. Whoever in the wardrobe department decided to dress her in outfits made of cloth-covered cardboard was obviously trying way too hard.

Swinton uses an English accent. It’s been such a long time since we heard it, I had to remind myself that she is actually English. If the Lucy/Macbeth relationship seemed odd, Edmund and the Witch are practically at first base. “Anything you’d like to eat?” she husks. Edmund is partial to Turkish Delight. I’m sure the folks at Fry’s would have been delighted to do a bit of cross-promotion with the film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style, except this is the sugary equivalent of heroin. The first taste is free…

“I’d like to meet the rest of your family,” she purrs.

“Why?” questions Edmund. “They’re nothing special.” Oh but they are. You see there’s a very handy prophesy that says four young sons and daughters of Adam and Eve will one day overthrow her. Obviously numerically challenged, Swinton fails to kill Edmund and let mathematics deal with the prophesy.

Back in the real world, Edmund proves to be not so much a Judas as a Peter, by denying Lucy’s claims of the hidden world. However, the owner of the house, Jim Broadbent, seems to be far more convinced, or at least in the abstract concept of it all. Edmund now has a serious monkey on his back, and contrives to get all four into the wardrobe. Susan is considerably shocked. How can she be a housewife now? They go to Macbeth’s house, only to find it ransacked. “Who would do this?” asks ever innocent Lucy. Macbeth always had problems with witches. Edmund looks shifty as well as strung out.

Instead they meet a beaver, gloriously voiced in full-on cockernee by Ray Winstone. Lucy offers to shake hands. “I ain’t gonna smell it if that’s wot you want,” replies Ray the beaver. “He’s a beaver!” cries a now seriously disturbed Susan. “He shouldn’t be saying anything!” Perhaps Susan in an atheist.

Ray fills them all in on the prophesy, as well as mentioning the last eponymous character, whom he oddly calls ‘Uslan’. Edmund is fed up waiting for the man and defects to Swinton. He gets a somewhat frosty reception. No more Turkish Delight unless he completely betrays his family. Edmund will have to clean up or ship out.

Peter now starts to take over. It’s not surprising since people start calling him things like “Sir Peter Wolfsbane”. That might go to a boy’s head. The film is very faithful to the book and it’s around about now that things get as absurd as Swinton’s outfits. This is a children’s fantasy, and C.S. Lewis thought that all kids’ ultimate dream was to be sword-wielding heroes driving evil from the land. These days, most kids would rather be Paris Hilton or Marshall Mathers. One wonders what they are going to make of all this.

And what are they going to make of it when Father Christmas himself turns up? He’s played by another Scottish guy who essays psychopaths, James Cosmo; more familiar for lopping off heads in Braveheart. The presents he gives to the children are all weapons, which may get the kids’ interest. I’ve a feeling some Christmas lists are being amended as we speak.

The children all have to run for it when they’re chased by wolves in the employ of Swinton. Oddly, the wolves possess the only American accents in the film, which makes a nice reversal of British guys usually being the baddies in films. Uslan, sorry Aslan, when we finally meet him, has the recognisably neutral Irish tones of Liam Neeson.

In order to save Edmund from Swinton’s clutches, Aslan trades himself. The witch still hasn’t got the idea that it’s the kids she should be scared of. And unlike Edmund, she has no compunction about killing Aslan. She shaves him first, though, Samson-like. What religious parable is this again? Imagine the toys that will accompany the film. Who wants a ‘Shaved Aslan’ then? It’s okay as, having died for all our sins, Aslan is miraculously resurrected shortly afterwards. What’s wrong with that? Gandalf did the same thing and nobody complained then.

The final battle begins. Sir Peter leads the good guys. Among their weaponry seems to be white phosphorous. Or at least white phoenixes, which provide similar scorching damage. It’s somewhat unusual to have a resolutely fluffy kids story that ends in a savage battle. The director tries to present it as nicely a possible. Only the ugliest of creatures get killed and everyone’s swords remain resolutely unbloodied.

In the end, all the kids get made regents, although Queen Susan just sounds wrong, like a Smack the Pony sketch.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a bloody odd film, really. Obviously influenced by the success of the ‘Lord of the Rings’, it tries to be as faithful as possible to its source material, without appealing to modern sensibilities like Peter Jackson’s magnum opus. The effects are breathtaking (Aslan is a wonder – when you remember how long it took to do the hairs on Sulley in Monsters Inc. a few years ago, it’s hard to conceive the time a photorealistic lion took) and those who love C.S. Lewis’s book will not be disappointed. I just worry that kids simply won’t get it anymore. There’s another six films on the way apparently, all based on Lewis’s increasingly poor sequels. Admirable, sure, but maybe they should quit whilst they’re reasonably ahead.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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