This BBC version of the timeless classic anthology The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis would be really entertaining to me if it were a 6-12 year old in 1990.It mixes 2D animation with live action, animal characters in beaver and fawn costumes, and an over-the-top, fantastically theatrical evil White Witch (Barbara Kellrman) who you’d swear was Angelica Huston at first glance. It’s like a cross between 1998’s dramatic TV miniseries Merlin starring Sam Neill and Helena Bonham Carter and Zoobilee Zoo.
In the first installment which most of us are familiar with, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Precocious youngster Lucy and her siblings Edmund, Peterand Susan are sent to live in a countryside mansion during war time. The house is owned by the sage-like kook Professor Digory Kirk (Michael Aldridge) who welcomes them with whimsy and a wink.While exploring their new house, Lucy stumbles upon an old wardrobe, and discovers that through it lies the magical land of Narnia, under the icy spell of the White Witch, who makes it “always winter, and never Christmas.”
Years worth of time in Narnia passes like mere moments in the real world, and through the wardrobe Lucy and her siblings eventually become Kings and Queens of Narnia, fighting alongside the noble Lion Aslan to restore Narnia to Spring. They pass in and out of this world, ruling for years in Narnia before returning to their childhoods back at the mansion. As Professor Kirk asserts: “Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia.”
A particularly dramatic moment occurs when Aslan makes a trade with the White Witch, his own life for the life of Edmund, Lucy’s brother who’s betrayed them.Aslan is led through the forest to an evil mob where they shave and muzzle him, place him on a stone slab to be sacrificed where the Witch then stabs him to death.This scene is mildly reminiscent of certain biblical renditions of sacrifice, where the victim is first humiliated before being killed. Lucy and her sister Susan look on in horror before Aslan is resurrected the next morning. He explains that a rule existing before the dawn of time states that when a noble being offers his life in a traitor’s stead, the stone cracks and the death is rejected.
This disturbing scene coupled with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Kerry Shale and Lesley Nichol) running around in full on brown furry beaver costumes and masks looking like characters Van Gogh and Lookout Bear from Zoobilee Zoo comes off as a bit disjointed. Without these costumes and childlike animation mixed in, the film could be reworked to resemble something like the Harry Potter films, which translate to both children and adults.
DVD Bonus Features
A bit of a history on C.S Lewis, which talks about his early fascination with humanized animals, such as the characters in the Beatrix Potter books. Narnia is described as being a bit like Wonderland, and this adaptation was on a grand scale with a large budget for the time, that kept getting increased as elements were added. Also shows the audition process held for the four children that were cast in the film.
A 2003 cast reunion interview shows the children all grown up fifteen years later. People still recognize them from time to time, by children who are just discovering the film, adults, and college students who were children when the film first came out. Also a behind the scenes featurette with funny outtakes and commentary on set and costume design as well as on what were the cutting edge special effects of the time.
"The Chronicles of Narnia" is on sale November 9, 2010 and is not rated. Directed by Marilyn Fox , Mark Monroe. Written by C.S. Lewis, Alan Seymour . Starring Barbara Kellerman, Kerry Shale , Lesley Nichol , Michael Aldridge , Richard Dempsey , Sophie Cook , Sophie Wilcox .