Directed by Andrew Adamson. USA. 2005.

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When I was younger, the time I spent alone with my Dad was special because it was so rare. Being a cancer research scientist of world renowned proportions, he was often mired somewhere in between flying to opposite points of the country, or stuck late at work. But he would never miss movie night. The one night a week my mother worked late, my father would cook, (meaning microwave Swanson chicken dinners to the density of granite) and we'd watch a video that he had picked up. In amongst the movies that Mom never knew I watched at such a young age were such classics as Highlander, The Thing, and The Shining. (The Shining leading to a fun phase where Dad would delight in leaping out from behind the stairs doing his best Jack Nicholson impersonation. But I digress.) The movie night I remember most though, was the impromptu showing of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.' I remember the feeling of being swept away into a new world. I played at being Lucy for months afterwards. I would constantly check our closet doors to see if in between 8 am and 8:10 am a portal to another world had suddenly sprung up in suburban Nova Scotia. My Dad was always the Professor. Patiently sitting at his desk, working on papers, he withstood days of me bursting out of his office closet either insisting on having just finished tea with a Narnian fawn, or bellowing out "I'M ASLAN!!!" and roaring at the top of my lungs.  Not much work was ever done in that office. But we had a lot of fun.

Now years later, I was thrilled at the prospect of introducing my daughter to the series that had meant so much to mr as a girl. In a world of 'Bratz,' and 'Barbie' the idea of showing her a story where young girls are strong heroines was very appealing. So, on opening night my daughter, her best friend, and I headed off to the theatre. The girls were thrilled to be going on opening night. They got their popcorn. They took their seats. And didn't move for the next two and a half hours. The pair were spellbound.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" tells the story of four children; Lucy, Peter, Edmund, and Susan. Sent away from their London home to escape the routine air raids of World War II, the siblings suddenly find themselves in the care of a reclusive professor, in a house with more nooks and crannies then you could possibly explore. One rainy day, during a particularly spunky game of hide-and-seek, Lucy takes a turn into a room with a wardrobe, (that's closet) that stretches from floor to ceiling. Stepping through the door, she finds herself transported to another world, where her brothers and sister are about to follow on the adventure of a lifetime.

Georgie Henley plays Lucy, the youngest, and first to venture into Narnia. Henley suits the role of Lucy, being the physical embodiement of the girl I pictured when I first read the books. (Back when I was a young girl, and dinosaurs were roaming the earth.) Huge expressive eyes, with a mixture of innocent trust, and a wise beyond her years aura, make Henley's Lucy a character to adore. Henley has created a lovely onscreen example of little girls being capable of big things. From her empathy towards a creature in trouble, to her bravery in dashing across a crumbling ice flow, to her hurt at being betrayed by a sibling, to her fascination with a particular lion, there wasn't a single moment that didn't come across as genuine and heartfelt. An impressive debut, especially for one so young.

Skandar Keynes plays Edmund, the next to venture through the wardrobe door. Keynes is another example of perfect casting, bringing C.S Lewis' sullen middle child to life with an accuracy that will impress the most voracious fans of the book. Keynes had a difficult task in making the role of Edmund likeable. Somehow Keynes had to take the role of the dishonest brother, who would end up betraying his brother and sisters to the villain of Narnia, and infuse him with enough empathy to allow the young audience a chance to root for him in the final sequences. Keynes masters it beautifully. There's a subtle complexity needed when portraying a character on a voyage of self discovery, and Keynes' interpretation lends that sense to Edmund. Between the sequences of defying his older brother, to running away from them, to inform on them to the White Witch, only to discover that she has in turn betrayed him, you actually see the character maturing onscreen. Quite nicely done.

Anna Popplewell plays Susan, the last sister to enter Narnia. Popplewell's portrayal of Susan, was, I found, the least impressive of the group of four. Though Popplewell is quite striking, and I did find her portrayal convincing, I found that Popplewell's Susan was lacking in strength, and power. The script for the film establishes her as being the 'smart' and 'logical' sibling, but once she crossed through the wardrobe I found her interpretation of Susan to be somewhat wishy-washy. Popplewell played the role as if on one side of the door, Susan was a peacemaker-logician-can do-genius. Then she crossed through to Narnia, all the strength disappeared, and every obstacle was met with complaints, and desires to give up, turn around, and go home. In a film rife with examples of bravery and intelligence in young girls, Popplewell's portrayel of Susan is good, but is not as strong, or layered as I would have liked, and is lacking in important character points from the books.

William Moseley plays Peter, the oldest brother of the family, and the last to come through the wardrobe. Moseley does a wonderful job of playing the senior sibling. What I really liked about Moseley's portrayel was how genuine he made his hero. In a cinematic world where young male characters seem typecast into a violent, gung-ho,  explosion/gun loving type, with no fear in the types of situations that would have most of us cowering in the corner, Moseley's Peter gives us a hero who has the grace to be frightened in frightening situations, which makes him all the more likeable. In the face of dangers as varied as defending his family from wolves, battling hordes of scary creatures, or fighting for his life against the White Witch, Moseley gives Peter a convincing, sensitive courage without a trace of machismo. Moseley's dramatic range, and onscreen charm makes him the young actor to give Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) a run for his money. (And if the reaction of my daughter and her best friend is anything to go by, a run for the admiration of young ladies everywhere.)

The four children were amazing. But the furriest hero and the villain of this story BLEW me AWAY. Although he never once appears onscreen , Liam Neeson's presence envelops the screen as the voice of the heroic lion Aslan. Through a combination of stunning animation, and Neeson's powerful, caramel soaked voice, Aslan becomes a majestic force. Neeson's lion is at once terrifying, and magnetic. Tilda Swinton plays the White Witch, and is absolutely fantastic. Swinton moves with an animalistic grace through her scenes, flashing from sweet and gentle, to fierce and cruel. She's a perfect villain.

Whenever I get together with other parents I know, the conversation inevitably turns to movies. The biggest common complaint I've heard about family movies has always been the short length of family movies tends to lead to a choppy, boring story.  The parents I know say that family movies tend to be so short, because young kids can't pay attention for more then 90 minutes. When my daughter and her best friend went to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory they bounced up and down. The chatted. They ran to the bathroom. With The Chronicles of Narnia, I saw the magic of a brilliant film weave it's way through the kids in the theatre. Once the movie started, my daughter and her friend didn't move a muscle. No chatting. No feet kicking. In one of the most intense battle sequences, a little boy sitting behind us piped up with "Mommy....I have to go pee.....But I'm gonna try my best to
wait until the movie's over....."

This new update of the classic novel, is gorgeous to watch, beautifully acted, and utterly unforgettable. I can't wait to go again. Neither can my daughter. Next time we're taking my Dad. He hasn't played at being the reclusive professor in 20 years. I know he'd love to have another game.

Appropriate Ages: 7 and Up
Parental Warning Bells: Intense WWII Battle Scene/Intense Fantasy Action Sequences/Seperation of Children from Mother/Intense Battle Sequences/Frightening Scene of Aggressive Wolves/Scenes of Animals in
Danger/Intense Death Scene of Lead Character
Parental Film Barometer: If your child would be fine with a film with the same content level of Legend, or Ladyhawke they should be fine with this film. The safest bet however, is to say that if your child is old enough to read the C.S Lewis books themselves, they are old enough to attend this cinematic adaptation.

Jen Johnston
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