Narnia 1: The passion of the lion

In the Queen's English, a wardrobe is a freestanding closet, what we, preferring French to English, would call an armoire. In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the wardrobe is like the looking glass (i.e., mirror) Alice went through to Wonderland.

Narnia is the wonderland the four Pevensie children discover inside a wardrobe in the home of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent), where they're sent to escape the bombing of London in World War II.

Lucy (Georgie Henley), the youngest, finds it first, while playing hide-and-seek. She steps through the wardrobe and into the snowy land of Narnia, where a curse of Jadis, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton)– aka the Queen of Narnia– has kept it winter for a hundred years.

Not having been taught not to talk to strangers (or maybe that's waived during wartime), Lucy is lured by Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a shirtless faun (well, he looks half-human to us), to his place "just around the corner" for tea and sardines. Lucy's in no more danger than the PG rating, but Tumnus does make a halfhearted attempt to kidnap her on orders from the White Witch.

Jadis gets her human prisoner when the next-oldest child, Edmund (Skandar Keynes), comes to Narnia. She uses her seductive powers on him, feeding him sweets and promising to make him King of Narnia if he'll bring the rest of his family over to be his servants. She's trying to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy that "two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve" will bring peace to Narnia, which would mean her overthrow.

First it's up to Lucy and her older siblings, Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell), to rescue Edmund. They get help from the animals in this multispecies society– a beaver couple (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French), a fox (a vocal cameo for Rupert Everett), and finally Aslan the Lion (although he's computer-generated except for some scenes with animatronics, Liam Neeson's credit doesn't specify voice-only).

Then there's Father Christmas (James Cosmo), who comes by to dispense weapons to the children, telling them, "These are tools, not toys," which should be comforting to parents in the audience.

Tool time is coming up. As Jadis says, "If it's a war Aslan wants, it's a war he shall get." She fights dirty, but it still comes down to a huge battle that's like a bloodless Braveheart with troops of humans, animals, and several things in between. The fact that no blood is drawn in the vicious fighting hardly makes the PG rating less suspect, and parents should be alerted.

The Pevensie siblings, who left England's war to get involved in Narnia's, have their own problems to work out. Peter, trying hard to be more grown up than he is, is too bossy. Edmund, trying not to grow up, is rebellious. The girls are girls.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a well crafted, old-fashioned fantasy-adventure. It might have been made, though not nearly as well, in 1950, when the C.S. Lewis book was first published.

Producer Mark Johnson says, "We hope Aslan will be the most photo-realistic computer-generated animal yet seen in a motion picture." He gets his wish. With hair, muscles, and other body parts in constant motion, Aslan looks at least as real as the icy beauty of Tilda Swinton, perfectly cast as the witch. The extent of CGI work is far less obvious than in Aeon Flux and other recent films assembled largely in computers.

The Lewis books, which I haven't read, are said to be heavy on Christian theology, but there's nothing overt in the film. Aslan is a Christ figure, but countless movies have those, and death and resurrection are nothing unusual in fantasy flicks. Churchgoers should enjoy Narnia, but atheists are unlikely to be offended, and marketing it as the Second Coming of The Passion of the Christ is a bit of a stretch.

With six books left to film, Disney is obviously hoping for a series to rival the Harry Potter films. Narnia skews a little younger and more traditional, but they've got God on their side.