Cinema Signal:

Character Animation in 3D
Use traditional drawing techniques to produce stunning CGI animation

(5 stars!)

by C. S. Lewis

A visual interpretation of Handel's immortal masterpiece on DVD. Shots of the chorus and 8 exceptional soloists intercut with people around the world. Conducted by Marc Minkowski in its entirety. Even for the non-religious, a glorious musical experience.

. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe"

Author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) has never acquired the fame of his Oxford colleague J.R.R. Tolkien and doesn't come close to the spectacular success of influencing a generation like fellow Brit J.K. Rowlings, but he certainly has his followers who consider this work Lewis' beloved masterpiece. They've undoubtedly been anticipating his children's fantasy's rendering into a film and, in terms of visual advancements, the time is right. The animal characters who speak english could never before have been achieved with such wizardly expression as they do here and now.

In a story that owes its core concept to "The Wizard of Oz," the four Pevensie children are sent by their mother (Judy McIntosh) from war-torn London during the Nazi Blitzkreigs to escape the bombings. Loaded onto a train for the country estate of the friendly Professor, siblings Peter (William Moseley), the eldest; Susan (Anna Popplewell), the eternally doubtful; Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the delinquently disrespectful; and Lucy (Georgie Henley), the adventurous, arrive to learn from the stern housemistress that their host is not to be disturbed. Setting about to enjoy the lofty premises as children do, a game of hide and seek brings Lucy to an unlocked door behind which is a room that has only one feature: a wardrobe covered by a linen sheet.

Needless to say, she ventures further, stripping the sheet and stepping inside. As she backs in, the better to hide herself, instead of reaching a rear panel, she finds herself in Narnia, a magical land of forest and mountains. She meets Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a faun who is half-man and half-goat. Liking the personable little human, he invites her to his cozy apartment cut inside a mountain.

The trust between them is great enough that Tumnus reveals that he's under an edict by the White Witch, the ruler of the Queendom, to turn any humans ever found over to her. This evil sorceress has kept Narnia in a perpetual winter for the last 100 years, preventing the arrival of Christmas. But the prophecy states that four humans, two males and two females, will someday arrive to help the great Aslan melt the icy climate and restore the land to fertility, free from the Witch's grasp. Despite the personal danger of his doing so, Tumnus allows Lucy to leave.

When she returns to the human side of the wardrobe, no time has elapsed, which doesn't help Lucy's credibility when she recounts her discovery. But, when spiteful Edmund, looking for an escape from penance for one of his demeaning little tricks, inadvertently finds himself lost in Narnia, Lucy leads the rest of them on a search for their errant brother, and the main adventure begins.

While being searched for, Edmund winds up in the carriage of the Witch (Tilda Swinton), who appears regaled in white splendor. She coos to Edmund to convince him of her good intentions and learns of the arrival of his siblings, an event that can only mean one thing to her: the realization of the prophecy that spells her doom. But, she's a very smart Witch, and full of resources.

Lucy, Peter and Susan are taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who reveal the prophecy and the need for the human family to meet and coordinate with Aslan, who turns out to be a uniquely wise lion king ensconsed in a grand tent that might have been stitched by Omar, the tent maker. It overlooks his army of disparate animal troops.

With Edmund a captive of the Witch, the issues of combat strategy against her are compromised but Aslan sacrifices himself in order to effect a deal with her. She releases Edmond to reunite with his family, bringing great joy to the good folks of Narnia. But the price for this witchly turnaround is Aslan himself, who is obliged to surrender and lay down at her feet for her merciless proclamation of triumph before stabbing him to death.

While Narnia derives from Alice's "Wonderland," what happens next derives from Christian scripture and you who have not yet seen the movie now have two choices in order to find out what that next development will be. Read the bible or pay your bucks at the boxoffice. The resolution of the fable will not be divulged here.

The visual effects to realize the story is an accomplishment of concept, design and seamless execution. Director Andrew Adamson and his digital team paid excruciating attention to the mouth movement dynamics of his animal characters, advancing the state of the art for such things leagues beyond what we've seen in those execrable commercials touting milk and whatever.

The highlights of the story include the feisty energy and expressiveness of 10-year old Georgie Henley, but a new Shirley Temple is not born out of this role. Aslan, couldn't be better voiced than he is by the very estimable Liam Neeson who conveys a paragon of dignity with every syllable.

With her eyebrowless, porcelain starkness, Tilda Swinton works her evil side into a passion of villainy that may well endure in the nightmares of the intended audience long after the images of kindness and good fade, although I have to add that the lion makes a pretty indelible impression himself. As for the religious aspect, it is only slightly more obvious than "The Matrix."

One is challenged to find anything else that rises to memorable. The other three siblings are, for the most part, literary archtypes rather than flesh and blood personalities. Peter's rise to a leadership role strains conviction and credibility. The film's weaknesses, however, while attributable to Lewis, to possible failures by screenwriter Ann Peacock and/or to some deficiency in Adamson's oversight, do not condemn the enterprise. In fact, it's a probable candidate as a Christmas story parents will appreciate for many Decembers to come. This and The Polar Express," side by side at your multiplex.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Aslan of Narnia and William Moseley as Peter
Advising the leader of the humans that he's stuck with.
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