(PG) 3 Stars

Ed Johnson-Ott

The children of 'Narnia'

I've never read C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. As a boy, my primary literary path went from The Hardy Boys to Kurt Vonnegut. Though I enjoyed science fiction, I had little use for fantasy novels. So many characters with exotic names and so many hard-to-pronounce countries, all with their own customs and political systems - reading one of those books seemed too much like studying. After unsuccessfully trying to get interested in The Lord of the Rings a few times, I learned to avoid novels with maps on the inside covers.

So here I am, reviewing the big-screen adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic. All I knew prior to the screening was that four kids would enter a fantasy world filled with talking animals and that there would be at least one major Christian allegory. One hundred and forty minutes later, I left the theater thinking, "The story was much more simple than I thought it would be; too simple, almost. I could have easily read this as a kid."

The Christian allegory was there as well, with one of the characters serving as a Christ figure. Just think, a holiday movie with religious overtones - what a bizarre concept. For the most part, the filmmakers avoid laying it on too thick, though there were a few moments where I wondered if the heavy-handed sacrificial scene was about to mutate into The Passion of the Lion.

As a work designed to entertain, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (tied with Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith as the most cumbersome movie title of 2005) does the job, though it takes forever to get rolling. Honestly, you could easily skip the first 30 minutes and still catch all the good stuff.

The story starts in London during World War II, with the Pevensie children - Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), younger brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and little Lucy (Georgie Henley) - evacuated from the war-torn city and taken to the sprawling country manor of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent).

During a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy takes refuge in a wardrobe and discovers that the back of the large free-standing wood closet is a portal into another world. A surprisingly mundane world, too, or perhaps director Andrew Adamson (both Shrek movies) thought it would be a nice twist for our first look at Narnia to be free of any sense of wonder. Regardless, Lucy soon encounters a faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a mild-mannered satyr-like figure.

I had problems with Mr. Tumnus. Though I understood that the story was set in more innocent times, it was hard not to get creeped-out at the sight of a bare-chested adult male trying to convince a little girl to come back to his place.

But I digress.

After going back to the manor, Lucy eventually returns to Narnia with her sister and brothers (it takes forever) where all hell breaks loose (ahem). It seems that the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) cast a spell plunging the land into 100 years of winter. But the appearance of the kids, the "children of Adam and Eve," fulfills a prophecy, triggering action from foes of the Witch, including lion king Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). Then angry young Edward betrays his siblings and before you know it, everyone is off on a quest. Thankfully, sometime during all of the fuss, Narnia finally starts looking wondrous.

Simple story, simple movie. My guess is that children will enjoy it once they squirm their way through that boring early stretch. As for the adults, there are pleasures to be had. Some of the performances stand out: Tilda Swinton does a nice job personalizing her role as the Witch, as does Skandar Keynes as the embittered brother and Georgie Henley as Lucy. The special effects are generally effective and occasionally striking (check out the detail on the lion). Though entertaining, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is perhaps the thinnest spectacle I've ever seen. I wonder, is there such a thing as a minor epic?

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