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MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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At its best, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe creates a sense of wonder. When the four Pevensie children, one by one, blunder through the enchanted wardrobe and into the strange, wintery world of Narnia, we can feel the exhilaration. The wonder doesn’t last, as the story takes many grim turns. The film moves along at a such a brisk pace that there isn’t much time to dwell on the darkness. As the children move from one perilous situation to another, it’s easy to get caught up in the adventure.

The Lion King

Father Christmas brings weapons instead of toys
Father Christmas brings weapons instead of toys

Narnia is the world created by author C.S. Lewis. His novels in the Chronicles of Narnia series are a mix of fairy tale, adventure and Christian allegory. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe begins during World War II, with German bombs raining down on London. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) are evacuated to a country mansion inhabited by a reclusive professor and his stern housekeeper. A rainy-day game of hide-and-seek leads Lucy into a spare room occupied only by a large wardrobe. As she makes her way inside of it, the fur coats suddenly give way to snow-covered pine trees.

Lucy and her siblings will learn that Narnia is stuck in a perpetual winter, imposed by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who fancies herself queen of the land. They will further learn, from two friendly talking beavers, that they must be the four humans who have been prophesied to lead an army against the witch and restore Narnia to the dominion of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the lion.

In true Joseph Campbell mode, the future heroes refuse the call to action. They cannot leave, however, because Edmund is in the clutches of the witch, who wants to prevent the prophecy from coming true. Aslan is their best hope of rescuing Edmund, and the as children undertake a dangerous journey to find the lion, they find themselves drawn further into the battle for Narnia.

Adventures in Religion

Overall, the film delivers a rousing adventure. The plot is tight and moves at a brisk pace without ever feeling rushed. Though there isn’t much opportunity for character development, the children’s characters feel distinct. The computer-generated effects, integral to a story full of talking animals and mythical creatures, serve the story without being too distracting.

Anyone who has been exposed to the extensive publicity surrounding the release of this movie will be aware of the story’s religious, specifically Christian, aspects. In the world of Narnia, Aslan mentions “a deep magic more powerful than all of us.” Although Lewis’s agenda is clear, it seems unlikely that this movie will win any converts. Believers may find their beliefs reinforced. Others can let themselves enjoy the story, without feeling that religion is being crammed down their throats.

Light and Dark

What lingers in my mind, days after seeing the movie, are the darker aspects of the story. Frankly, it’s depressing that these children leave their war-torn world only to find themselves pressed into fighting in another war. When Father Christmas pays them a visit, he has no toys in his bag to give them, only instruments of war.

Religious symbolism aside, the story is a fairy tale, and any good one will have evil that must be faced and overcome. That the children are able meet these challenges is an empowering message, even if it means they have to fight instead of play.