Building Entertainment: The Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Walden Films Edition. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Year: 2005

Source materials: The book by C. S. Lewis

Budget: $180 million

Box office: $745 million

Plot: During World War II, the Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are evacuated from a London suburb to Professor Digory Kirke’s country home. Mrs Macready, the strict housekeeper, explains he is unaccustomed to hosting children.

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While the Pevensies play hide-and-seek, Lucy discovers a wardrobe and enters the fantasy world called Narnia. Seeing a lamppost, Lucy encounters the faun Mr. Tumnus, who invites her to his home. He puts Lucy to sleep by playing a lullaby on his flute. When Lucy wakes up, she finds Tumnus grieving. He explains that Jadis, the White Witch, has cursed Narnia to a hundred years of winter. If a human is encountered, they are to be brought to her. Tumnus cannot bring himself to kidnap Lucy, so he sends her home. When she returns to Professor Kirke’s house, hardly any time has passed, and her siblings disbelieve her story.

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One night, Edmund follows Lucy into the wardrobe, entering Narnia. While searching for Lucy, he meets the White Witch, who claims to be queen. She offers him tea and Turkish Delight and the prospect of becoming king if he brings his siblings to her castle. After she departs, Edmund and Lucy meet again and return. Lucy tells Peter and Susan what happened, but Edmund lies. Professor Kirke suggests she is telling the truth, though they remain unconvinced.

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While running away from Mrs. Macready after accidentally breaking a window, the four siblings retreat to the wardrobe and enter Narnia, Peter and Susan doing so for the first time. They briefly castigate Edmund for lying and force him to apologize to Lucy. Then, they discover that the Witch has taken Mr. Tumnus, and they meet Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who tell them about Aslan. According to the beavers, Aslan intends to take control of Narnia from the Witch. The four must help Aslan; it has been prophesied that if two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sit in the four thrones, the White Witch’s reign will end.

Edmund sneaks off to visit the Witch. When he arrives at her castle, she is furious he has not delivered his siblings. The Witch sends wolves to track down the children and the beavers, who barely escape. Edmund is chained in the Witch’s dungeon, where he meets Tumnus. The Witch demands Edmund reveal his siblings’ location. After Tumnus claims that Edmund knows nothing, The Witch tells Mr. Tumnus Edmund betrayed him, then turns Tumnus to stone.

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While Peter, Lucy, Susan, and the beavers travel, they hide from what they believe to be the White Witch. It is really Father Christmas, a sign that the Witch’s reign is ending. Father Christmas gives them weapons to defend themselves. Lucy receives a healing cordial that can heal any injury and a dagger to defend herself. Susan receives a magical horn that will summon help and a bow and quiver full of arrows. Peter receives a sword and a shield. After evading wolves led by Maugrim, the group reaches Aslan’s camp. Aslan is revealed as a huge and noble lion, who promises to help Edmund. Later, two wolves ambush Lucy and Susan. When Peter intervenes, Maugrim attacks him, and Peter kills him. Some of Aslan’s troops follow the other wolf to the witch’s camp and rescue Edmund. Peter is knighted by Aslan.

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The White Witch journeys to Aslan’s camp and claims Edmund, but Aslan secretly offers to sacrifice himself instead. That night, as Lucy and Susan covertly watch, the White Witch fatally stabs Aslan. In the morning, he is resurrected, citing magic beyond the Witch’s understanding.

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Aslan takes Susan and Lucy to the Witch’s castle, where he frees the prisoners she turned to stone. Edmund persuades Peter to lead Aslan’s army. While saving Peter from the Witch by destroying her wand, Edmund is mortally wounded. As the Witch fights Peter, Aslan arrives with reinforcements and kills her.

After Edmund is revived by Lucy’s cordial, the Pevensies are crowned King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, King Edmund the Just, and Queen Lucy the Valiant.

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Fifteen years later, the Pevensie children, now young adults, chase a white stag through the forest. They encounter the lamppost Lucy saw earlier and suddenly tumble out of the wardrobe at the same time and day they left, becoming children again. Professor Kirke then finds the children, asking why they were in the wardrobe. In a mid-credits scene, Lucy later attempts to return to Narnia via the wardrobe, where Professor Kirke tells her he has tried for many years, and they will probably return to Narnia when they least expect it.

Background: During the early 1990s, producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy were planning a film version. The success of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone prompted the producers to feel they could make a faithful adaptation of the novel set in Britain. Guillermo del Toro turned down the offer to direct due to his commitment on Pan’s Labyrinth. Following an Academy Award win for Shrek, director Andrew Adamson began adapting the source material with a 20-page treatment based on his memories of the book.

Changes from the Source Material:

  • In the novel, the battle is not seen until Aslan, Susan, Lucy and their reinforcements arrive.
  • Tumnus also never meets Edmund until the end in the novel.
  • Adamson also changed the circumstances in which Lucy first comes into Narnia. He felt it was more natural that she first see the wardrobe while looking for a hide-and-seek hiding place, rather than just chance upon it exploring the house.
  • The film also hints at Professor Kirke’s role in The Magician’s Nephew, such as the engravings on the wardrobe, when it is a simple one in the novel, and the Professor’s surprise and intrigue when Peter and Susan mention Lucy’s discovery in the wardrobe.
  • The father of the Pevensie children is in London with their mother, but in the film, their father is fighting in the war as Lucy states to Mr. Tumnus when they first meet in Narnia.

Animation: Weta Workshop head Richard Taylor cited Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights as an inspiration on the film. He felt Narnia had to be less dark and gritty than their depiction of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings because it is a new world. Many of Weta’s creature designs were designed for digital creation, so when Howard Berger and KNB FX inherited the practical effects work, they had to spend three months retooling approved designs for animatronics.

The filmmakers asked permission to bring in twelve reindeer to New Zealand to pull the White Witch’s sled. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry denied, citing the potentially deadly Q fever from which the North American reindeer population suffers as the reason. To replace the denied live reindeer Mark Rappaport’s Creature Effects, Inc. created four animatronic reindeer that were used in shots where the deer were standing in place.

Music: The soundtrack was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. Gregson-Williams had previously worked with Adamson on Shrek and Shrek 2. In addition there are three original songs in the film: “Can’t Take It In” by Imogen Heap, “Wunderkind” by Alanis Morissette and “Winter Light” by Tim Finn. Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee also wrote a song for the film, but it was not included in the soundtrack.

Cast: James McAvoy teturns as Mr. Tumnus and Jim Broadbent returns as Professor Digory Kirke.

William Moseley as Peter Pevensie. 1 He appeared in Run, The Silent Mountain, Margarita with a Straw, The Royals, Friend Request, My Sweet Audrina, The Veil, In Like Flynn, and The Little Mermaid. Anna Popplewell as Susan Pevensie. 2 She also appeared in Mansfield Park, The Little Vampire, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, and Reign.

Skandar Keynes as Edmund Pevensie. 3 In 2016, Keynes announced that he is no longer pursuing a career in acting and was now a parliamentary adviser to Crispin Blunt, MP. Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie. 4 She appeared in Perfect Sisters, The Sisterhood of Night, The Spanish Princess, and she was named as a cast member for the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel series.

Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan. Films include Excalibur, Darkman, The Bounty, The Mission, Next of Kin, Schindler’s List, Nell, Michael Collins, Les Misérables, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Kinsey, Batman Begins, the Taken series, The Grey, Silence, The A-Team, The Lego Movie, and A Monster Calls. Tilda Swinton as The White Witch. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Michael Clayton. Other films include Caravaggio, The Last of England, War Requiem, mThe Garden, Edward II, Orlando, The Deep End, Vanilla Sky, Adaptation, Constantine, Julia, Burn After Reading, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I Am Love, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Snowpiercer. She is also known for her performance as the Ancient One in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Ray Winstone as the voice of Mr. Beaver. He began his career as Carlin in the 1979 film Scum. He also played Kevin, an ex-army soldier, in Quadrophenia as well as Will Scarlet in the television series Robin of Sherwood. His career includes roles in the films Sexy Beast, Cold Mountain, King Arthur, Ripley’s Game, Hugo, The Magic Roundabout, The Departed, Beowulf, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Edge of Darkness, The Sweeney and Noah. Dawn French as the voice of Mrs. Beaver. She is best known for starring in and writing for the BBC comedy sketch show French and Saunders with comedy partner Jennifer Saunders and for playing the lead role as Geraldine Granger in the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley. She also appeared in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Love and Other Disasters, Coraline, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, and will appear in Death on the Nile.

Michael Madsen as the voice of Maugrim. His first major film role was in Thelma & Louise and he is best known for working with director Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Other films include War Games, The Doors, Free Wiley, Mulholland Falls, Sin City, Donnie Brasco, Species, and Die Another Day. Rupert Everett as the voice of Mr. Fox. He first came to public attention in when he was cast in Julian Mitchell’s play and subsequent film Another Country as a gay pupil at an English public school in the 1930s. The role earned him his first BAFTA Award nomination. He went on to receive a second BAFTA Award nomination and his first Golden Globe Award nomination for his role in My Best Friend’s Wedding, followed by a second Golden Globe nomination for An Ideal Husband. Other films include The Madness of King George, Shakespeare in Love, Inspector Gadget, The Next Best Thing, The Importance of Being Earnest, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Wild Target, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and of course Dunston Checks In.

Critical Reception:

  • Movie critic Leonard Maltin gave the film 3 out of four stars, calling it, “an impressive and worthwhile family film,” though he also said, “it does go on a bit and the special effects are extremely variable.”
  • Duane Dudak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave the movie 3 out of 4 stars.
  • Stuart Klawans of The Nation said, “All ticket buyers will get their money’s worth.”
  • Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News gave it 4 out of 4 stars and said: “A generation-spanning journey that feels both comfortingly familiar and excitingly original.”
  • Critic Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle listed it as the second best film of the year.
  • Kit Bowen gave the film 3 out of 4 stars.
  • John Anderson from Newsday, reacted negatively to the film, stating, “…there’s a deliberateness, a fastidiousness and a lack of daring and vision that marks the entire operation.”

Legacy: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first of a series of adaptations of C. S. Lewis’ series, and was followed by Prince Caspian in 2008 and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010. The three films have grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide among them.

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My take: This is a book I have always loved, and this is a version of the book on steroids. I mean if you’re going to have a huge battle with centaurs, minotaurs, unicorns, griffins, etc… then you go all out. It’s cast well. Sometimes you never know about child actors, but they were fine. I liked strengthing the conflect between Peter and Edmund.

Available on Disney +?: Yes, as well as Prince Caspian, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not.

Next Week: John Carter