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December 11, 2005

Narnia Mini-Review

Three out of four stars.

I find it hard to review this because it's a kid's movie. A well-made kid's movie, and interesting and enjoyable enough for adults too (I didn't get bored until near the end), but still a kid's movie.

It's definitely well-crafted and handsome. It's also briskly paced. There's not a whole lot of exposition -- it's a simple good vs. evil story, after all -- and what little of it there is is engagingly delivered. The prophecy about the "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve" defeating the White Witch is told by a pair of quite-amusing talking beavers, for example.

There are actually some good laughs along the way, and not just charity laughs. Again, the beavers are pretty funny. And there is definitely a sense of wonder about this strange new world. If a jaded adult finds Narnia interesting and wondrous, I'm sure it'll be an easy sell for the kids.

The young actors are all good, except perhaps the eldest brother Peter, who looks the part of a young handsome prince but is pretty bland.

The special effects are strong. There are some bits of CGI animation that look false, but most of the animated animals look pretty real most of the time. You do end up buying the talking beavers, for example. Aslan, in particular, is well-animated, and there didn't seem to be any rushed or botched CGI there. One character, the fox, seems to be a botch, but he's not on screen for very long.

Pretty much I enjoyed the movie and wasn't particularly aware I was watching a kid's movie. It's a kid's premise, of course, but the smartness of the dialogue and the impressive production design make you sort of forget that.

Until... well, until we meet Aslan and his gathering army. The film doesn't get dumb here, but this is where I began to grow a little antsy. Fortunately, at that point, you're just a half hour away from the big Aslan moment and then the final battle, where interest picks up again.

Regarding the Christian allegory: Okay, I expected it to be subtle and almost not even there unless you're looking for it. Those who've read the books (I haven't) know that's not the case. Although the Christian allegory, Alsan-as-Christ part of the movie is fairly brief (ten minutes all told), it's very overt. There's really no chance at all you can miss the connection between the crucifix and the Stone Table, or the "Law of Magic" which says that all those who betray are the property of the White Witch (the Satan type), and can only be redeemed by... well, someone a lot like Christ who sacrifies himself in very Christ-like manner.

Still, this is all of ten minutes. The allegory is definitely there. The offense, however, really isn't, unless you're really determined to be offended.

Weirdest moment: When Santa Claus shows up and starts passing out medieval weapons of war to the children. Ho, ho, ho, now go stick this sword through your enemy's heart. A jolly old elf who kicks ass and takes names. (Note they avoid calling him Santa or "Father Christmas," as I understand he was called in the book, but that's clearly who he is.)

All in all, engaging and brisk and funny and even, once in while, somewhat exciting. Adults won't find too much of this good vs. evil fantasy adventure novel or surprising, but it's well-enough executed they also won't find themselves looking at their watches.

It's good enough that you don't really need the excuse of kids to see it. Which is pretty good for a kids' movie.

And yes, Allah: It looks like old fashioned storytelling -- the stuff that dreams are made of -- is back in style.

Key Question: Is the film, as hysterical Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote, some sort of fascist Christian Republican jackbooted hegemonic war fantasy?

Oh, yes, definitely. That's what makes it so gooooood.

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posted by Ace at 09:03 PM

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