C.S. Lewis’ classic work of children’s literature is brought to exuberant life with enticing visuals and bright performances under the guidance of director/co-screenwriter Andrew Adamson (Shrek) and a large group of highly skilled animators, production designers and crew. Four young British siblings, living under the duress of WWII, take refuge in the country mansion of a kindly professor (Jim Broadbent) where they discover a passage to a fantastical wintry land via an old wardrobe.
The children learn important lessons regarding betrayal, leadership and overcoming fear from a mystical ruler lion named Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) as they are plunged into a war against Jadis, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). The movie features a cornucopia of talking creatures including centaurs, minotaurs and fauns that do battle in the film’s surprisingly violent climax to liberate Narnia from Jadis’ wintry curse.
The filmmakers succeed in capturing the essence of Lewis’ fantastical work by keeping the film’s focus on the underdeveloped personalities of the children among painterly visual diversions that gradually become more prevalent. Andrew Adamson employs visual economy to the piece even with its wildly incredible elements of icy landscape and strange creatures.
The youngest member of the family, Lucy (Georgie Henley), is the first to discover the hidden magical land when she alone makes her way through a passageway of heavy furs inside of a giant wardrobe to set foot on the snowy ground of Narnia. A cozy streetlight marks the outside of the passageway where Lucy meets an odd Pan-like creature named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy).
Mr. Tumnus calls himself a faun even if his thick cloven-hoofed legs resemble those of a goat more than they do that of a deer. Lucy accepts an invitation for a cup of tea in Tumnus’ lair where he attempts to kidnap her in favor of his forced allegiance to the White Witch.
Nonetheless, Lucy escapes back through the wardrobe to the safety of her siblings albeit without them believing her tale of brief adventure. The potentially frightening story wins the trust of young viewers by gradually allowing its young characters to test the waters of Narnia in a back and forth process that shows it to be a place that they can exit from at will.
The success of the movie rests on the casting of four young actors who work convincingly well as independent thinkers connected by their bloodline. A significant aspect of the story concerns Edmund’s naive association with the witch Jadis in return for a few pieces of Turkish Delight. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) is the second member of the Pevensie family to visit Narnia, and he falls for the intimidating charms of Tilda Swinton’s deathly sinister incarnation as the White Witch. So much so that when Edmund returns to the cold land with his siblings, he soon deserts them in favor of the promise of enjoying more Turkish Delight in the company of the evil Queen.
Narnia is a feast of visual delights, but it is also an instructive story about wartime dilemmas. It’s a substantial element that makes the source material timeless. MTW