Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Classics: A Review of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe By Lauren Ennis

Lesson 1 Never wear fur when you're messiah is a giant cat
When it comes to love for either a person, place, or work of art there is truly no accounting for taste. As a result, for many viewers, films that were once viewed as ‘classics’ during childhood often lose their luster when viewed years later. This week I’ll be reviewing a childhood film that was beloved throughout my childhood although it hardly qualifies as a classic; the 1979 animated adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ classic fantasy The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The film follows the story of Lewis’ novel and chronicles the adventures of the four Pevensie siblings; Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The film begins with the children staying at the country home of Professor Kirke, but fails to explain why the children are staying there (the novel stated that the children are staying at the home after being evacuated during the London Blitz), which leaves the events of the story without the historical backdrop that provided the novel with added emotional weight. During their stay, youngest sibling Lucy discovers a portal to a magical world through an old wardrobe, marking the beginning of the children’s adventures. It is during this first visit to Narnia, a land populated with mythical creatures and talking animals, that Lucy befriends faun Mr. Tumnus, who unbeknownst to her initially plans to turn her over to the wolves who make up Narnia’s Gestapo-esque secret police. After having a conversation with the curious and amiable Lucy, however, Tumnus finds himself unable to betray the little girl’s trust and safely guides her home only to later be arrested for his efforts. Eventually, Lucy’s other siblings join her in Narnia and all four children find themselves embroiled in a resistance effort to overthrow the White Witch who has oppressed the land and restore its rightful ruler, talking lion Aslan, to his throne.

While the film may have been dazzling upon initial viewing for many children, the quality of its animation is laughable when compared to either the likes of today’s computer animation or skillful traditional animation from major motion picture companies like Disney. Throughout the film, characters move about in a stilted way, make unnatural facial expressions, and often fail to open their mouths when they speak, creating the unusual illusion that they are actually talking through their teeth. Also, while the human characters are more realistically drawn, the talking animals that populate Narnia are often drawn in such a ‘cartoonish’ way that the two sets of characters seem as though they belong in separate films. Perhaps the most noticeable laziness on the animators’ part is the recurring use of a handful of images that are recycled throughout the film for its chase scenes that are so limited as to make the stock backgrounds of such television shows as The Flinstones and The Jetsons appear expansive. 

Did Red Riding Hood teach you nothing about talking to strangers?!
While the film’s animation is certainly lacking, the film’s creators did do justice to the original source by closely following the original novel. The film refuses to shy away from the obvious religious subtext of the story and instead remains true to Lewis’ original intention by portraying Aslan’s persecution and subsequent resurrection as a child-friendly metaphor for the tale of Christ. By following the story’s original allegory, the film provides the story with the gravitas and depth that made the original a bestselling classic. The film also maintains many of the secondary characters from the novel, which in turn allows for Narnia to truly feel like a world unto itself full of its own mixture of social classes, species, and political allegiances. Fortunately, the voice-over performances also capture the personalities of the characters in such a way that brings them to life and propels audiences’ investment in their struggles. Unfortunately, however, the lack of any mention of World War II and the animators’ use of 1970’s fashions places the story out of its original historical context and therefore removes the parallels between the Allied struggle against Axis forces and the similar struggle between Aslan’s supporters and the forces of the White Witch.

While it is certainly no Oscar contender, this adaptation will always remain my favorite version of the C. S. Lewis classic. The film successfully manages to relate the original novel’s expansive drama into a manageable ninety-five minutes without sacrificing any substance or depth. While its rudimentary animation would spur more laughs than wonder today, there is no denying the film’s ability to transport young viewers to the magic and amazing world that is Narnia. While I’ll be first to point out the film’s many technical flaws, I can’t deny the memories of wonder and possibility that come flooding back to me each time I put on my scratchy old VHS copy. In the end, isn’t it that sense wonder and possibility that movies are all about?

Turkish Delight: Making chocolate uncomfortably sexual since 1979


  1. Mr. Tamnus makes me feel EXTREMELY uncomfortable in this adaptation. So much so that I feel like he should be required to read a Court Ordered Notice every time he moves somewhere in Narnia...

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