Director: Andrew Adamson. Disney/Walden Media
Producer: Mark Johnson, Philip Steuer. Writers: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely. Camera: Donald McAlpine. Music: Harry Gregson-Williams. Sets: Roger Ford.
Georgia Henley, Skander Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Kiran Shah, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn Fench, Rupert Everett.
Evacuated to the countryside during World War II, the Pevensie siblings (Henley, Keynes, Moseley and Popplewell) soon find themselves bored kicking about the Professor’s (Broadbent) stuffy mansion. During a game of hide and seek, they find a large wardrobe in an empty room that acts as a portal to the fantasy world of Narnia. Narnia is a land of snow and ice, lorded over by the White Witch (Swinton). But the coming of the human children sparks a rebellion from the creatures who dwell here, led by the wise and powerful lion Aslan (Neeson).
Wittily summarised by Empire magazine as ‘Lord of the Rings in fuzzy felt’, as brief and accurate a description as any critic could dream up, Chronicles may not live up to Peter Jackson’s mighty trilogy but this first part has a certain, chilly kick to it.
For those who still fondly remember the entrancing childrens TV version made in the eighties will know that this Disney version doesn’t hold a candle to it. One improvement, however, is with the casting and styling of Swinton, in what turned out to be the film that ‘made her’, aged 45 and after years on the art-house film circuit. She is a frostily enigmatic megalomaniac, seductively whispering sweet nothings to an underage Skandar, offering him neverending sweety rewards before trying to spear him with an icicle. She’s dressed in a shimmering, post-box style bodice, with alabaster white make-up and long, blond dreadlocks. It is a striking display of lip-smacking, movie-psycho villainy, shaded with a greatly talented performer’s control and determination.
The children are annoyingly middle-class, but Henley is an adorable find as Lucy, the youngest of the group and McAvoy is a sweetie as Mr Tumnus. A raft of British stars voice some of the animals; there are more parts here than on Noah’s Ark. Notably, Everett is a heroic fox and Winstone and French are the bolshy beavers.
The effects are workmanlike and effective. Lion tries hard to emulate the Tolkein adaptations in terms of scale and thrills but it merely fizzes when the action starts rather than presents eye-popping spectacle. Its amusing to see how on this level the two films are so similar but also vastly different at the same time.
Disney and Walden Media furnish a slap-up production and this first installment proved a hit, but despite the razzmatazz publicity drive, the other additions to the series (Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – in 3D) have failed to capture similar audience attention.