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'Lion, Witch, Wardrobe' Preserves Book's Tone


Next up, we're going to hear one critic's review of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." That's the best-known part of the seven-volume "Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis. It's been made over the years into stage, television and animated versions and now a live-action film. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has our review.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Only the pure of heart can prosper in Narnia or enjoy the new film, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" that's set there. The movie version of the C.S. Lewis novel may have cost a very adult sum of money--$180 million by some accounts--but it is intentionally pitched to a child's point of view. The movie cost so much because Narnia is a fantasy kingdom. It's populated by dozens of species, including centaurs, minotaurs and fawns who wear scarves and serve tea.

(Soundbite of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe")

Mr. JAMES McAVOY: (As Mr. Tumnus) I'm sorry. My name is Tumnus.

GEORGIE HENLEY: (As Lucy Pevensie) Pleased to meet you, Mr. Tumnus. I'm Lucy Pevensie. Oh, you shake it.

Mr. McAVOY: (As Mr. Tumnus) Uh, why?

HENLEY: (As Lucy Pevensie) I don't know. People do it when they meet each other.

TURAN: Ruling them all is Aslan, the original Lion King and, thanks to pricey special effects, an animal who convincingly speaks like a man. Four British siblings find the entry to this special kingdom located in the back of an enormous wardrobe. Once inside Narnia, the children find they are fated to help Aslan defeat a wicked witch who freezes people with a flick of her wand. Tilda Swinton has the part, and she knows how to make the most of it.

(Soundbite of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe")

Ms. TILDA SWINTON: (As Jadis, the White Witch) Edmund, I have no children of my own, and you are exactly the sort of boy who I can see one day becoming prince of Narnia, maybe even king.

SKANDAR KEYNES: (As Edmund Pevensie) Really?

Ms. SWINTON: (As Jadis) Of course, you'd have to bring your family.

KEYNES: (As Edmund Pevensie) But I guess I could bring them.

Ms. SWINTON: (As Jadis) Beyond these woods, see those two hills? My house is right between. You'd love it there, Edmund. It has whole rooms simply stuffed with Turkish delight.

KEYNES: Couldn't I have some more now?

Ms. SWINTON: (As Jadis) No!

TURAN: If all this sounds like J.R.R Tolkien, it's not surprising. Lewis and Tolkien were friends at Oxford, members of a literary society called The Inklings and readers of each other's work. Comparisons of the new film to the recent "Lord of the Rings" trilogy are inevitable, and they don't always work in "Narnia's" favor. Some of "Chronicle of Narnia's" problems come straight from the book. Having children as protagonists, especially in action sequences, works better on the page than on the screen, and the fact that Lewis intended Aslan's willingness to sacrifice his life for others as a Christian allegory is also more effective read than seen. Still, the "Narnia" film is made with sincerity as well as a pleasant sense of genteel wonder, that suits the material. If this movie lacks the compelling intensity of the Tolkien films, it's still a sweet-natured vehicle made with respect and care. It may be "Lord of the Rings"-like, but there are worse things in our world than that.

INSKEEP: That's Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.
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