STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
MSRP: $34.99

134 Minutes

• Commentaries
• Fun Facts
• Interviews
• Interactive Map
• Supernatural Character Bios
• Awesome Cover Art

The Pitch

"It’s the classic children’s book by C.S. Lewis brought to life. Again."

The Humans

William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Kiran Shah, James Cosmo, Judy McIntosh, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Rupert Everett, Michael Madsen, Liam Neeson

The Nutshell

Four recently orphaned siblings are stowed away in a rural mansion while Britain is bombarded during World War II. During a boredom-alleviating game of Hide-and-Seek, the youngest sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) discovers a portal through a wardrobe into a magical land. This fantastic world called Narnia is more or less another dimension existing in its own timeline with creatures of multi-cultural mythological origins. Eventually, all the children make their way through this free-standing coat closet; Peter (William Moseley) the eldest, Susan (Anna Popplewell) the older sister and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) the second to youngest child. Here they find that there is a battle already in progress between ultimate evil in the form of a White Witch (Tilda Swinton) and the son of the emperor across the sea. Also known as Aslan the Lion. And also a symbolic representation of Jesus Christ (voiced by Liam Neeson). Edmund, still confusedly blaming his siblings for the death of their parents, betrays them to the White Witch for the promise of candy and a seat of royalty over Narnia. He of course represents Judas in this story. When it becomes clear that the White Witch’s promises are empty, he returns to his family and Aslan repentant. To pay for Edmunds sins, Aslan offers up his own life and is sacrificed on an ancient stone table. Fortunately, martyring yourself for the sake of another is the best magic ever and Aslan returns to life just in time to bring support to the final battle against the White Witch.

Under the sheet Lucy found a portal to a wonderous land the likes of which she could never have dreamt.
Later that day she’d find Narnia through a wardrobe and the professor’s "Boner Jamz" would be all but forgotten.

The Lowdown

Making a big budget Narnia movie in 2005 was the closest Hollywood ever gets to a sure thing. The Lord of the Rings trilogy showed that, if done with care and massive special effects, a fantasy epic could pull in the money. The Harry Potter films utilizing children as leads proved that the public craved kids and magic and magical worlds accessed if you know where to look. And Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ gave evidence that there was a Christian demographic the Left Behind and Omega Code films hadn’t scratched with their low budget attempts. Like all these films, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is based on widely loved books. It also had instances in each case that should have proved the first in the Narnia series should have surpassed these other films when it came to box office. The Narnia books are a much easier read than The Lord of the Rings and therefore should have a stronger fanbase. This film also has an advantage over the Harry Potter books as there is no part of the public condemning it as evil devilwork and yet it is much more family-friendly than the Christian, yet super-violent Passion. The only wonder is why this movie didn’t make more money from its theatrical release.

"I can’t believe it. Now my pants are chafing me."

Director Andrew Adamson was a considerably poor choice as a director for this film. His only directing credits before this were the crowd-pleasing, yet emotionally empty and pop culture reference-heavy Shrek films. Strike two was the visual effects supervisor credits he had from the two Joel Schumacher Batman films (although he can’t be blamed for the Ice Capades visual themes as that decision most certainly was passed on to him from a higher station). All evidence pointed toward Adamson being a director who makes the kinds of films adults think kids like. This, the first in what will be a seven film Chronicles of Narnia series is much better than we could have hoped for under the circumstances yet still not what it could have been.

The comparisons to The Lord of the Rings films is almost invited here as there are sweeping epic shots consciously lifted from the Peter Jackson films. Yet, as much as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would like to be considered similar to those films, it skews toward the safer side in every scene. This, the first in C.S. Lewis’ books is a grand tale that is no less than another world’s battle between a vaguely Christian God and its Satan. Pure good versus pure evil. These are things that children can understand. As such, it should allow for scenes to be more intense. This is never the case. Not a single drop of blood is shown in this film. Even the crucifixion of Aslan (so to speak) is weak and rushed. There is one blow to Aslan’s head, then he is quickly shaved and bound. When the single stab that takes Aslan’s life occurs, we are shown a tight close-up on his face where he looks mildly shocked, then seemingly goes to sleep. Although this concealment of the violence may keep the film at a soft PG, it also robs the film of any depth. In Disney’s heyday (Old Yeller, Snow White, eg.) they never shied away from darker sides of a story as long as a cheery ending was in store. Later when we return to that same scene, Aslan returns to life unharmed. Yet we have no feeling of relief because the film was too busy covering our eyes for us. That, and there’s not a lot of time to grieve as a viewer. Compare this to the death and resurrection of E.T. in the movie of the same name and you begin to see how this film is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Violence on a level of The Passion of the Christ isn’t necessary, but when your character will be making such a swift return it is allowed to twist your audience’s heartstrings a little.

The Li’lest Pimp really started pulling in the cash after it occurred to him that the term was slang.

The casting of Tilda Swinton as the White Witch was perfect. Unfortunately what she brings to the film is less than what is necessary. In her effort to play the character as real as possible, her White Witch is subdued. This character is, at its base, the devil. Chewing the scenery a bit is not only allowed, it is fundamental. Without her going a little over the top to convey evil, the pure good of this film doesn’t have as far to go. Too bad, as Swinton has the ability to go that extra mile had she been pushed. Perhaps it was the extraordinarily uncomfortable-looking funnel dress the costume department made her wear. Michael Keaton had more range of movement in the Tim Burton’s Batman costume than she was allotted in her overly starched iron maiden. Casting of the child actors was well done. Most kids in the business make it big through an innate ability to mimic. When you watch those children on the screen, you can almost see their acting coach (usually their parents) performing the part for them to imitate. The result of which is a two dimensional display of adult mannerisms superimposed on a child’s body. Instead, what they did here was hire actors that were very much like the characters they were playing. Not just in looks, but in who they were. This makes for a much more natural, organic performance.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a great kid’s film. Remove the "kid’s" caveat, however, and it’s just passable. When a movie is too afraid to overly shock its audience, then depth is lost and you end up with a pleasant enough looking film but not much more. And Frankly, that’s why most of the audience for this film is watching. The special effects are quite good. The sets are large and grand. And the props are meticulously designed. Just don’t expect to be moved by any of the proceedings.

"We’ve come only for documents. Tell us where to find the Bellasarious Memorandum and we shall disappear like a nightmare before the breaking day."

The Package

The set Disney sent CHUD for review was the Special Two-Disc Collector’s Edition and that’s what is reviewed here. If you are a fan of this film at all, or even if you just want to own a copy, it is highly recommended that this is the version you purchase. As we will discuss, this version is superior in every way other than the transfer, which is identical.

The single disk version of this film is simply the first disk of the two-disk version. On it you will find a bloopers reel. It’s under five minutes long and has your typical flubbed lines, people tripping and the like. The only thing missing is Dick Clark and Ed McMahon cracking hilarious jokes while Sergio Aragonés cartoons sweep the stage. The big draw on this first disk are the commentaries. The first commentary is with director Andrew Adamson and the four leads William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley. It consists of a lot of dead air and Adamson asking the kids to tell us what they were thinking during different shoots. There’s a little infighting from the kids as they try to one-up each other on how cute they can be. This part is fun. The second commentary is of director Adamson, producer Mark Johnson and, via phone-link, production designer Roger Ford. Having one of the participants contribute through a conference call is a little distracting, but infinitely better than recording them separately and editing them in later. This latter style of consolidating commentaries is a terrible practice and always comes across like speakers are ignoring each other (see Helena Bonham Carter’s commentary on the Fight Club DVD). The last extra on disk one is the Fun Facts feature. This works similarly to the old VH-1 Pop-up Video show except this runs off your DVD player’s subtitle feature. This is a fantastic idea, but not used to its full potential. There aren’t nearly enough fun facts popping up and when they do, they’re often repetitive. Why do we need separate blurbs telling us that the books were written in the 50s and also the exact year they were written?

From this point forward, the film in Nick’s head is better than anything put to film ever.

The second disk is where the real meat is stored. You get your typical effects featurette. And the director interview. And an author bio. There’s a documentary chronicling the kid actor leads which is fun (they created a song parodying a Foxy Brown tune they repeat on the set quite a bit). More features discussing bringing the books to the screen and the like. But the best stuff is the multimedia works. There is an interactive Narnia map that is just awesome! You click on the map and a pleasant British-accented woman tells you about that location. There is a time-line feature that tells you what goes on in Narnia and what the real world activities that happen simultaneously. This feature is pretty humorous as the Narnia events last years whereas the real world events consist of the professor merely stuffing his pipe (literally, you dirty minded scamps). We also get small blurbs of the supernatural characters that inhabit this supernatural land. All told, this is really good stuff.

The cover art is this reviewers favorite part of the Collector’s Edition version. The single disk editions are simply the case with poster art on the cover. The Special Edition has the outer cardboard sleeve designed to look like an old leather-bound novel with a textured Aslan coat of arms. This in itself is really cool. Then, when you open the flap you see the wooden wardrobe. When you slide the case out of the sleeve, the interior portion has a beautifully rendered lamp post and snowy Narnia-scape. The case for the DVDs looks like the wardrobe. And that’s all. Except for the spine which has the film’s title, the entire case is covered with a photo of the meticulously designed stand alone coat closet. It’s a little surprising that Disney would allow this kind of simple, minimalist design on their DVD. It’s the best packaging of any DVD since the ancient tome look of the Lord of the Rings Special Editions. This is coolness approaching the ball case for the Phantasm films or the Book of the Dead cases for two of the Evil Dead movies.

"Magic Missile! Magic Missile! Magic Missile!
Dude, I killed you! Go back to the tent and wait for the next round!"

8.2 out of 10