Written by: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy
There certainly is no shortage of stories where unsuspecting younglings learn about their destiny to save entire kingdoms. It presents the opportunity for children and teens to take center stage in genres typically told through a more adult perspective. Focusing on how children see it defines the success of these tales and not many get more timeless and magical as the first Narnia film.
Being forced to live with a professor during World War II, four siblings try to find some sort of normalcy and when hiding in a mysterious wardrobe, they enter a magical land. In this new world, they find talking animals, fauns, and learn their destiny to be the kings and queens of this domain.
With the success of fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings, other filmmakers attempted to take a stab at adapting long-adored and vast stories in the hopes of also making a smash hit. Taking the stories from C.S. Lewis promised to build enough lore to create at least a trilogy of films and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe gets them started on a solid start. This film has the large task of introducing these characters and the vast world of Narnia. From its talking animals to a lion, who appears to be a thinly-veiled representation of Jesus Christ, there’s plenty going into this film.
The four siblings each have their own quirks along with what makes them destined to rule Narnia. Peter (William Moseley) as the eldest serves as the leader, Susan (Anna Popplewell) carries wisdom, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) thinks on his own, and Lucy (Georgie Henley) brings the childlike wonder. They each mourn the childhood they could have maintained back at home and await the return of their father from the war. It makes it apt that they must battle their own war in this distant land. It serves as a coming of age transgression for each of them in different ways, providing a lesson they will take when it concludes.
The created world of Narnia looks dynamic and wonderful for the children to explore. It defines what makes this land so special and worth defending from this ice witch portrayed by Tilda Swinton. Similarly to The Lord of the Rings, they filmed in the plentiful fields of New Zealand, which adds a level of life and beauty to something that could have easily been fully computer-generated. It makes the world feel tangible amid all of the magic occurring around these human characters.
While there may be information in the books about the lore of this story, several gaps appear in the narrative of this movie. Obviously, the film wears its religious backbone on its sleeve with Aslan as Jesus and the way the destined siblings get addressed. They are each called either Son of Adam or Son of Eve depending on their gender, which explicitly lays it all out for you. However, the film does not indulge in any explanation about how they were destined to take on this journey by any stretch. The only explanation for why they’re perceived as the kings and queens seemingly occurs because they’re the first humans to step into Narnia. If we’re to believe this prophecy about these four siblings then something more has to be said. Several occasions throughout the film produce those moments where things get stated and everyone knows it without any proper backstory backing it up. In addition to the destiny of these four siblings, it also appears in the arbitrary rules they have, including when the White Witch demands the blood of Edmund because of his act of betrayal. This seemingly comes out of nowhere, which then becomes an incredibly large plotline with serious implications for the story.
Impressive battle sequences and rich mythology, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe introduces us well to the world of Narnia. It establishes what makes this place special with all of the wonderful creatures inhabiting it. This film shows the story through the eyes of these children, which makes the surrounding environment even more vibrant with their childlike wonder. It effectively mixes its PG rating with battle sequences demonstrating a high level of quality. Sure, the film could have done more to explain the backstory, but as a movie that can be attractive to both kids and adults, I certainly would define this as a success.