The battle begins: “Narnia” takes on Harry and friends
It’s impossible to watch the big screen adaptation of Christian author C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and not compare it to the Harry Potter films. Both vie for the same children’s fantasy demographic, so why not stack “Narnia” (the first of many possible episodes) against Harry and company’s immensely popular films? For those who want to cut to the chase: “Narnia” is a special film that trumps the Potter films in nearly every important aspect.
For starters, the four actors who play the Pevensie children bring a delightfully eccentric British air to the proceedings. Peter (William Moseley), the eldest boy who would be King, Susan (Anna Popplewell), the quieter oldest girl, Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the surly younger brother, and Lucy (Georgie Henley), the bright-eyed youngest benefit from the strong script, in contrast, Harry, Hermione, and Ron struggle with the dramatic elements of their scripts. We love them despite their shortcomings. But “Narnia” succeeds because the children have an unforced likability. The supporting actors in both series are stellar. Tilda Swinton is certainly creepy as the Ice Queen and White Witch of Narnia who ensnares the brooding Edmund. The Harry Potter films rely less and less on their supporting cast, perhaps never recuperating from the loss of Richard Harris.
The stronger structure of “Narnia,” with its clear lines in the battle between good and evil serve well the thinly-veiled Christian allegory and do so without offending the non-religious. While “Narnia” takes its time developing the story, it never meanders. “Narnia” begins as the children are evacuatued during the bombing raids over London during WWII. Once the children discoer the wardrobe that leads to “Narnia, the film demonstrates its share of truly special effects– brilliantly offering talking animals more believably than any film before it. The masterstroke is how director Andrew Adamson (who also directed the “Shrek” films) allows the effects to underscore the storytelling without letting them dominate.
An epic battle scene reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings” surfaces at the end of “Narnia.” Although it is a somewhat sanitized version (which allows for a PG rating), parents should still be cautioned that these scenes– though void of blood and gore– are still the most intense of any PG film. The Potter series simply doesn’t evoke the same grandeur, but its fans will quickly point out that nothing in “Narnia” matches the darkly sinister images of the soul-sucking Dementors and the dread invoked by the appearance of Sirius Black.
While some have described the Harry Potter films as “The Wizard of Oz” of its generation– such heretical comparisons should be avoided– “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” is easier to compare to “Oz,” especially given its odyssey/adventure narrative and sense of enchanting innocence. There is a timeless quality to its screenplay that should make it a favorite for years to come.
Bottom line: While the Potter films mostly please faithful readers of J.K. Rowling’s books, it will be easy for those unfamiliar with C.S. Lewis to become enthralled by “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Rated PG for battle scenes and violence.