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Spoiler Warning! In the unlikely event that you don't know the plot of this movie, I spoil the ending, etc. etc. in this review.
Despite my well-known issues with the recent film version of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, I am firmly in J.R.R. Tolkien camp when it comes to comparisons with C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series. As you may know, Tolkien and Lewis were friends and lecturers at Oxford. They wrote stories in their spare time and read them at their writer's group, called Kolbitar, which is Icelandic for Coal Biters, i.e., people who sit too near the fire. It was inevitable after the success of the LOTR movies, that the Narnia series would be brought to the screen in a similar live-action special-effects extravaganza. There are seven books in the Narnia series, promising a Harry Potter-like series of movies if the first movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is as successful as predicted. This new movie is based on the first book published in the series but it is actually book two. The Magician's Nephew comes first chronologically.
That aside, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the most descriptive book titles ever. The story is about four children who are sent to the countryside for safety during the Blitz in London in WWII. Ironically, they, themselves, get caught up in a war between good and evil between the lion, Aslan (Liam Neeson's voice) and the witch (Tilda Swinton) in Narnia. The children, are referred to constantly in Narnia as the "Children of Adam and Eve", just in case you don't get that this is a re-telling of the New Testament. They are Peter (William Moseley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Lucy (Georgie Henley). Their adventures in Narnia begin during a game of hide and seek in the house where they are staying, which is owned by a mysterious professor (Jim Broadbent). Lucy, the youngest, hides in a large wardrobe and finds that it backs onto a beautiful winter landscape. That this is some alternate reality soon becomes clear, when beside the famous lamppost, Lucy meets a Faun named Tumnus (James McAvoy). Soon all four children are wandering around Narnia, which proves to be rather dangerous since it has been foretold that the children will appear and save Narnia from the evil queen. She tries to nip this in the bud by killing the kids starting with Peter. Before they know it, they are in the middle of a huge battle to free Narnia. The leader of the good side is, of course, the mysterious and powerful Aslan, the great lion, a.k.a. Jesus with big teeth.
All in all, I wasn't that impressed with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It certainly pales beside the LOTR movies as an epic and the Harry Potter movies as a coming of age film about children with superpowers. This isn't all the fault of the movie, the story itself has less cohesiveness, less complexity and fewer interesting characters than either LOTR or Harry Potter. In addition, I thought the special effects were very disappointing. In some respects, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had a tougher row to hoe than the other live-action adaptations because they have to deal with talking lions, beavers, wolves etc. They make a good effort but it falls short. Aslan looks pretty darn good, but the beavers, which have a (much too) large role, look like cartoon characters. The wolves, in particular, are shown half the time as real wolves and half the time as CGI wolves and the two don't look very similar. In general, the scenes that were filmed in the real world and the ones that are all CGI don't match very well. And unlike LOTR wherethere are just a few alien races, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe you meet every animal and mythical character you can think of, and it gets a bit like that scene in Shrek where all the cartoon characters show up.
The cast is pretty good. Most of the scenes in the movie are stolen by Georgie Henley who plays the ten-year old, Lucy. She is really great and somehow looks exactly like an English kid should look. The other children are ok but pretty stolid. Tilda Swinton has a good time chewing on the scenery with relish. Her right-hand dwarf (Kiran Shah) has a lot of fun with his part. And James McAvoy does well with hooves as Tumnus the shy faun. Jim Broadbent is great as usual in the tiny role of the professor. The director is Andrew Adamson who directed Shrek and Shrek2 which were very good. But, I think he was overwhelmed by trying to direct three-dimensional people in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I refer here to their bodies not their characters. This is really a children's film except for the fact that it has a well-deserved PG rating. There isn't much blood but lots of characters get killed. It helps a bit that most of them magically come back to life at the end. But the killings, particularly that of Aslan, are a bit intense.
It's been about 35 years since I read the book version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so I won't try and compare the treatment of the Christian motifs between the book and the movie. Some people have been saying that if you didn't know ahead of time, you wouldn't notice. This is not true. Besides the whole "Children of Adam and Eve" thing, everything that Aslan does and says, cries out that he is Jesus. There is no attempt that I can see to go lightly on the Christian message. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was produced by Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a very rich, right-wing guy. I don't want to make too much of this. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a watchable movie with some good bits and until Wednesday when King Kong opens, it is the blockbuster of the week.