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‘Lion’ is Too Tame

By Jeremy Mathews
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(out of four)
Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent and featuring the voices of Rupert Everett, Ray Winstone, Dawn French and Liam Neeson
Rated PG

There are a few problems inherent in having live-action characters interact with talking, computer-generated animals.

First, the animal may look pretty good, but it’s never going to look perfect. The slight distortion of reality becomes distracting. Second, most animals don’t emote particularly well, so realistic representations aren’t dramatically effective. That’s why character designers work better with original, nonexistent creations like Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings,” whose features can be tailored to acting.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” introduces beavers, foxes, wolves and (together now) a lion as supporting characters, but none of these characters come to life. The actors voicing them give good performances, but it’s impossible to really connect to such cold, occasionally disturbing creatures.

Director Andrew Adamson, who made the delightful “Shrek,” could have made something much more memorable and affecting using animation. Donkey, after all, is a better character than a real donkey whose mouth happens to move.

The animated characters populate the fantasy land of Narnia, created by C.S. Lewis in a series of novels, of which this is the first adaptation. The film is a kinder, gentler fantasy compared to the increasingly dark Harry Potter series and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Narnia looks like a nice enough place to live even when under fascist rule, so the film never becomes particularly disturbing.

To four young humans, the Pevensie children, the land is an escape from the harsh realities of air raids and familial separation that comes with life in England during World War II. Moved to a wealthy professor’s (Jim Broadbent) house in the country for safety, the children are bored and unhappy until they encounter this wondrous world.

Young Lucy, played by the too-cute, ever-smiling Georgie Henley, wanders into a winter wonderland through an old wardrobe. After meeting, having tea with and almost being kidnapped by a neurotic fawn named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), Lucy hurries home, only to learn that no time has passed. Her three siblings, however, don’t believe her silly claims.

Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the second youngest, misses his father, who’s at war, and constantly encounters the wrath of his older brother, Peter (William Moseley), who complains about how Edmund complains all the time. Susan (Anna Popplewell) is more compassionate, but is criticized for being a know-it-all. If I were looking after these kids, I’d take them to a movie to shut them up.

Because his siblings alienated him and he likes the treats a stranger gives him, Edmund befriends The Ice Queen (Tilda Swinton), who some say isn’t a queen at all, but a witch. However, her goal—to get rid of humans and stay in power—isn’t exactly in Edmund’s best interest. Swinton plays her part with verve, giving her character’s desire for power more credibility than that of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), a Jesus-esque lion who wants to bring Narnia back to what are presumably the forces of good.

The witch’s rule has left Narnia in a long winter without Christmas, but many brave creatures—all of whom look less handy in a fight than the witch’s cohorts—are rebelling. The other three kids team up with a beaver (voiced by Ray Winstone), who guides them through an almost-perilous journey to find Aslan and his army of fawns and birds as it readies itself to take back Narnia.

There’s an oblique reason that everyone is so concerned about these humans. Some prophesy apparently says that a family of four humans—two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve—will arrive to save Narnia from its icy cold winter. And so the witch wants to kill them all and the lion wants to save them. From what I can tell, however, all they have to do to save Narnia is arrive. The group makes a big effort to get to the good team’s encampment so that they can basically stand around and watch the battles.

Adamson’s direction may be responsible for the feeling that the kids aren’t important. Many of the scenes are shot and edited in ways that downplay the excitement and drama. In one scene, the queen’s cocky wolves corner Susan, who knows she needs to reach her horn to call for help. The horn is quite a distance away, and it would be interesting and exciting—maybe even tense—to see how she makes it to the horn without being eaten. Instead, the scene cuts away and we hear the horn. If the film is going to cheat us out of the pay off, then the character might as well have the horn in her hand at the beginning of the scene.

This style may make the scenes palatable for very young fans of the book, creating a decent family film. But it also hurts the narrative flow. By the time the film reaches its pretty but undramatic battle scene, it doesn’t much matter who wins. I was rooting for the Ice Queen—that way, there’d be more Swinton.

jeremy [at]


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