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Flawed Fantasy

Much like Trix cereal, 'The Chronicles of Narnia' is for kids

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is perhaps the most expensive children's movie ever made. As far as that goes, I found it a bit dull. But then, children's films are generally a bit dull for grown-ups. I think kids would get a big kick out of it, though, as they're unlikely to notice most of its cinematic and narrative flaws.

First off, the central conflict really lacks motivation. For those of you who never read the books, there's this magical land called Narnia. Sadly, it has for the last few millennia found itself in a state of perpetual winter due to the magic of the White Witch, who is very pretty but likes it kind of cold.

So all the bunnies and fluffy kitties and physically attractive magical creatures don't like the White Witch, because apparently, they like things a bit more tropical. However, the ogres and wolves and magical creatures who are not so pretty all seem to like the White Witch. One assumes they like it cooler.

And therein lies, for me, the central problem of this film, and of a lot of fantasy films and stories: It's not really clear why one side is "good" and the other "evil." The biggest clue to who's good and who's bad is that the "good" people are prettier than the "bad" people, except for the White Witch, who, like Dick Cheney, is both very pretty and tremendously evil. Except it's not clear exactly what she's all evil about. I mean, what does she want? And why is it such a big deal to her? And further, why does she keep turning her enemies to stone?

On the side of goodness, she's opposed by a very pretty lion named Aslan, who seems like maybe he's a nice guy, but, at least at first, it's kind of hard to tell. I mean, he roars a lot, and he has no problem clawing his enemies to death, so it's not like he can immediately take the moral high ground over the witch.

I'm sure there's some deeper explanation for why one side is so much better than the other, but it really seemed like a marginal difference in the film. I understand that if you read all the Narnia books (the film is based on one of eight books in a series of fantasy novels by C.S. Lewis), it gets cleared up, but solely within the context of this movie, I was kind of rooting for the White Witch, because I like winter sports and stuff.

Anyway, entering the kingdom of Narnia are four children, Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie, in ascending order of age. They each basically have one-line character descriptions that they stick to throughout the film, except for Edmund, who has a two-line character description, thus making him the only interesting child.

While the other three kids unquestioningly side with Aslan, Edmund, in a spirit of détente and open-mindedness, checks out the White Witch, who has more candy and also has offered him the chance to take over the whole kingdom.

Of course, she's lying and stuff, because she's evil, but I really appreciated Edmund's efforts to get both sides of the story. He's like Fox News: fair and balanced, if a bit unreliable.

The other big problem with this film is that director Andrew Adamson cuts across the line of action during the final battle scene. In other words, he has one army on the left side of the screen, and the other on the right, and then he switches sides. This is very confusing, and led me to believe that a rhino was evil, when, in fact, like all rhinos, this rhino was good.

Perhaps Adamson did this because he liked the White Witch and hoped that the audience would question their intuitive allegiance to Aslan. Or maybe he just made a stupid mistake.

However, it was the shallowness of the characters and the poorly explicated good/evil relationship that made the film a bit dull for me. I think kids are more accepting of simple labels, though, and when it's stated that the White Witch is the bad guy, and when they see that her allies are all unattractive, I'm pretty sure the grade-school audience will simply accept the premises of the story and get sucked into the action.

And there's a lot of action. The film is almost nothing but a series of events. In fact, it seemed like the outline of a film, a schematic for a story that could have been fleshed out with some detail about why this was happening and who it was happening to.

But if you're willing to accept the premises and can suspend other interests enough to simply root for the pretty children and the pretty lion, I think you should find yourself diverted for the 140 minute run-time of this movie. If nothing else, it's tremendously rich in its visuals, and definitely captures the feel of a fantasy world. If it had only captured the motivations of that world and those who come into it, I'm sure it would have won me over.

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