Who’ll Be the Real “King” of the Box Office This Christmas?

A Faithful Rendition

In fact, in a reverse of Aesop’s famous fable, I think it will be the lion (Aslan) who benefits the mouse (Mickey) this time. Walt Disney, in cooperation with Walden Media, has created a film that is about as faithful to Lewis’s work as fans of the book can possibly hope for. In what has been a dismal year for Hollywood, there’s no doubt that the film will be one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, and rightly so.

Shrek director Andrew Adamson (son of Adam — how appropriate!) has created a truly magical movie. Twenty minutes into the film, when Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) steps through the wardrobe into Narnia, it is as delightful as we imagine it when we first read the book. While the filmmakers have added scenes not found in the book and ratcheted up the tension in several places, the central story remains very much intact. The additions do not overly detract from the story, but in some cases actually help flesh it out.

For example, early in the film we see how the Pevensie children’s treatment of their brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes) leads to his resentment. His older brother Peter (William Moseley) is especially harsh and critical of Edmund. Such scenes help the viewer to understand Edmund’s later betrayal and the underlying reasons for his pride, greed, and selfishness. While we are disappointed with Edmund, we can empathize with him and see our own sinfulness in his fall.

The film is superbly cast and the characters do an excellent job of portraying Edmund’s selfishness, Peter’s reluctant kingship, and Susan’s (Anna Popplewell) intelligence and kindness. Yet it’s Lucy who nearly steals the show with her innocence and wide-eyed wonder. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) is appropriately cold and menacing.

Was it Possible to Get Aslan Right?

If there’s any weakness in the film, it is Aslan. How do you create the divine face of God in an animal? No matter how he is portrayed, the image will always fall short.

This was Lewis’s primary concern regarding a staged or film adaptation of the book. Writing to actress Jane Douglass in June, 1954, he said: “I am sure you know that Aslan is a divine figure and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simply blasphemy.”

After all, Aslan, for Lewis, was Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. He told a group of Maryland 5th-grade students as much in a letter written in 1954.

“I did not say to myself ‘Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia’; I said ‘Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a lion there, and then imagine what would happen,’” wrote Lewis.

While Adamson’s Aslan isn’t perfect, he’s far from blasphemy. A CGI lion voiced by Liam Neeson, he’s a compelling character. All of Narnia genuflects when we first see him, and he willingly hands himself over to Jadis to be humiliated, shorn, and killed in Edmund’s place.

Yet at times it’s obvious that he’s computer-generated. It’s difficult, perhaps, to get the eyes just right, so that they convey love and concern when he’s telling Peter about the Deeper Magic that exists in Narnia.

This Film Repays Careful Attention

Thankfully, the Christian elements have not been expunged. For those who have eyes to see, most of the Christian elements remain. Aslan lays down his life for Edmund. Two females are the first to see Aslan following his resurrection. The broken stone table recalls the veil being torn in two. After rising again, Aslan breathes new life into those who have been turned to stone and calls them to battle.

Christians paying careful attention will happily note the nod to Christ’s Passion at the battle’s climax — a welcome surprise not found in Lewis’s book. Near the end of the film, Aslan says that the kings and queens of Narnia shall rule until “the stars rain down from the sky,” — a nice allusion to Revelation as well as the final book, “The Last Battle.”

As a motion picture, Adamson creates moments of peril in the film that are not in the book — the Pevensie children crossing an icy river that is breaking up while being pursued by Maugrim and his fellow wolves; the tension of fearing that Lucy has been drowned; the wolves attacking Lucy and Susan. What is remarkable, though, is that Adamson is able to successfully create tension in almost every scene even though we already know exactly how the story will turn out.

It’s also a shame that Adamson chose to forego much of Lewis’s language and dialogue for clichés. It’s as if the film has been dumbed-down.

Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, for example, are played for comic relief. They come across as an old married couple, with Mrs. Beaver commenting on Mr. Beaver’s weight and Mr. Beaver chastising her for her constant preening.

One additional disappointment is that as in The Lord of the Rings, one of the female protagonists is given a more expanded role in battle. In the book, Father Christmas hands Susan a bow and a quiver full of arrows, saying, “…for I do not mean for you to fight in the battle.” Yet, fight she does, dispatching the Queen’s dwarf, which met with great laughter among our audience.

My nine-year-old son, perhaps predictably, enjoyed the battle scenes best of all. Thankfully, they don’t approach being as graphic as those of The Lord of the Rings. While you don’t actually see creatures being run through with swords and spears, the implication is there. Personally, I found the sacrifice of Aslan far more intense, as did many of the younger children in the audience. As Jadis prepares to kill Aslan, she is surrounded by creatures that look as if they have been brought up from Hell. The scene had many of the children younger than seven in our audience crying and clutching their mothers.

One final note: Don’t be too quick to leave the theater after the film. After the initial credits roll, there’s an additional scene between the professor and Lucy, in which the wardrobe door is left open a crack. I’m not prone to singing the praises of Walt Disney; the ailing studio has much from which to redeem itself. This one is a great start. It leaves the viewer yearning for the next film. I can hardly wait.

© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange

Tim Drake is the author of Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). He writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota — where, like Narnia, it is always winter.

Young and Catholic can be ordered by calling 1-800-888-9344 or visiting Sophia Institute Press.

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Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist, the author of six books on religion and culture, and a former radio host. Widely published, and a long-time contributor to the National Catholic Register, he serves as Executive Director of Pacem in Terris Hermitage Retreat Center in Minnesota.

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