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This review is from: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [DVD]  (DVD)
For several years, fantasy films were MIA, except the occasional hack job.
Then "Lord of the Rings" came and went, leaving some pretty big shoes to fill, as far as fantasy films go. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" doesn't quite fit the shoes, but it comes a lot closer than any other movie has.
In Andrew Adamson's adaptation, C.S. Lewis's classic fantasy novel comes alive with remarkable fidelity, sparkling special effects, and some truly excellent acting by almost everyone concerned. If "Lord of the Rings" was stern older brother Peter, then this movie is Lucy -- bright, swift and thoroughly charming.
With WW II raging, the four Pevensie children are sent to the countryside, at an eccentric professor's mansion. But during a game of hide-and-seek, little Lucy (Georgie Henley) hides inside a wardrobe -- and stumbles into a wintry wilderness, with a faun she befriends. Alas, her brothers and sisters don't believe her -- but they don't know that Edmund (Skandar Keynes) has also gone through, and befriended a sinister, beautiful Witch (Tilda Swinton).
Eventually all four end up going through the wardrobe, but but they soon find that the Witch is hunting for them, in fear that they will fulfil an ancient prophecy. But Edmund has run off to join the Witch. And so the remaining three must join up with Aslan (Liam Neeson), the leonine god-king of Narnia. But the price for victory against the Witch may be too high.
Since "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" is labelled both a kids' book and a Christian fantasy, it's easy to get put off by the description of it. Don't be. Director Andrew Adamson ("Shrek" and "Shrek 2") has obviously given this his whole heart and soul, and it has the right mixture of majesty and humor that a film like this needed.
And Adamson does a spectacular job. The the taut race across a frozen river, the bombing of London, tea with the faun Tumnus, and even the cameo by Father Christmas (who gets a medieval makeover) -- all of these come to life with remarkable skill and grace, but with respect for its audience's intelligence. The make-or-break scene is Aslan stalking to the stone table, and the horrifying sacrifice scene that follows does justice to Lewis' novel.
But Adamson doesn't let it get overinflated on its own ego. When Edmund tells his horse, "Whoa, boy!" it retorts peevishly, "My NAME is Philip!"; elsewhere, the beavers snipe at each other like an old married couple. Those moments of lightness -- and giving Aslan a sense of humor -- keep the film from seeming self-conscious.
And of course, the special effects. WETA workship deserves an award (it's been nominated for a few) for the amazing CGI, ranging from goat-legged Tumnus to the lion Aslan, who looks almost real. They are especially good in battle scenes, which are startlingly savage and brutal, but filled with outstanding moments, such as a centaur leaping over the Witch and nearly beheading her.
Young Georgie Henley is probably the most capable actress here, conveying misery, awe, delight, childish glee and sorrow. All this from a small child, when a lot of adult actors can't manage that much. Skandar Keynes and Anna Popplewell turn in good performances as Edmund and Susan. Swinton and William Moseley (Peter) start off rather woodenly, but they both blossom when the four arrive in Narnia.
Though Lewis was reportedly against a live-action adaptation of the Chronicles, it's hard to imagine him having a problem with this rapid-fire, sparkling adaptation. (And stay for the credits for an extra surprise...)