Narnia: The Franchise™, by any account, is going to suffer the burden of expectation. Already a childhood classic that brings with it the stigma of visualizing what millions of people have already got in their heads, Lord of the Rings fever has infected the undertaking in the womb, producing a first child which makes me undesirous of the union continuing.
The major problem I see in the film is twofold: First, my attempt to retrieve from the movie some semblance of the wonder I felt as a child; and second, the filmmakers’ attempt to imbue the film with enough wonder that it can’t help but outshine our expectations both as readers and as moviegoers. In conjunction, these two factors cannot help but result in disappointment.
I realize that this film, like the books, is directed towards children. Although comparisons must be made to Tolkien’s work, both because of his relationship to Lewis and the filmmaking techniques they share, the books work on a much smaller scale (despite the allegorical elements). And this is why I feel that a smaller scale would have been appropriate for the film. In an attempt to match LOTR for epic scope, a movie in which sound stages alternate with real life with grating obviousness falls flat. At one point, when emerging onto a most impressive ridge, I expected the children to wonder how to get back to Narnia from Middle Earth. An effort to bring home just what danger the Pevensies are running from by depicting a German bomber cockpit and extremely poorly animated bombs made me think I was in the wrong theater. Is this background necessary? Is it an effort to Harry Potterize the children’s plight by emphasizing the starkness of real life? Do we need huge clashing armies, the origins and motives of which are never quite clear?
It is the small things that work in this movie and which should have been emphasized. Everyone’s talking about Georgie Henley’s performance and cuteness and I can’t help but add my voice to the clamor. She, as Lucy or as an actress, is everything I wanted to be when I was eight. There was a little clumsiness in her crying, but on the whole I felt that her reactions were perfectly childlike and real. The animals, while well developed from an anatomical perspective, still suffer, especially in direct sunlight. I was grateful that they looked like animals and not crudely anthropomorphized cartoons. Liam Neeson, however, ought to take some acting lessons from Aslan. And Tilda Swinton as the White Witch was spot on devilish. Her cold, pale face could well be believed to be the cause of eternal winter without Christmas, and I myself might be tempted into taking Turkish Delight from her Method-ridden hands.
Narnia should not suffer comparisons to Middle Earth. These two series are quite different animals, each lovely in its own way with brilliance enough to shine on their own. This film, however, makes the comparison inevitable, and it comes out the lesser. Concentrate on the children, spend less time on sweeping over alien landscapes and make these odd creatures people. Make Tumnus’ ears move and centaurs comprehensible to us. Don’t give us bloodless battles which can’t teach us anything and resurrections which are only there to preach.