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Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005 08:53 pm

Lightweight Lion

C.S. Lewis adaptation has plenty of visual delights, but a lightweight story

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
With the success of Chicken Little, Disney Studios has shown that it is capable of competing in the computer-animated-film business, even if its wildly successful distribution deal with Pixar Animation is a thing of the past. In producing a big-screen adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ beloved The Chronicles of Narnia series, the Mouse Factory hopes to set up a long-running franchise to appeal to devotees of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films.
However, it becomes apparent early on in this rendering of the first book of the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that though Andrew Adamson’s adaptation is a wonder to behold, the film’s visual delights are in the service of a lightweight story, perfectly suited for viewers between the ages of 8 and 15. Whereas the Potter films have proceeded to become more complex and the Rings trilogy is dense in metaphor and complex emotion, Lion’s tale is simplistic and comes off as clichéd. In this World War II-era tale, the Pevensie children have been sent to live in the country, away from their London home, which is in constant danger of being bombed. As Peter (William Moseley) and his younger brother, Edmund (Skander Keynes), bicker constantly, Susan (Anna Popplewell) does her best to look after the youngest of the brood, Lucy (Georgie Henley). Their new residence is a gloomy mansion that sits on a sprawling estate overseen by the stern Mrs. MacReady (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and owned by Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). While playing hide-and-seek with the other children, Lucy discovers an abandoned room holding a massive wardrobe that is a portal to the mystical land of Narnia, where the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton) rules the land with an iron hand. Soon the Pevensies are told that their arrival has been foretold in a prophecy stating that they will wrest control of Narnia from the White Witch and that order will be restored with the aid of an army being assembled by a long-lost lion named Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). We don’t need the aid of a ham-fisted prophecy to see where this story is headed. The familiarity of the tale, Swinton’s one-note performance, and the film’s obvious Christian underpinnings combine to make the film feel derivative and trite. Awash with good intentions and grand visions, this movie fails to achieve the emotional impact it desperately wants to deliver, and its sense of “been there done that” ensures that Lion is a trifling entertainment rather than a rich, poignant experience.
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