Picks and Pans Review: The Chronicles of Narnia

updated 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Tilda Swinton, Jim Broadbent, Georgie Henley

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Half a movie is still better than no movie at all. That would be the positive-thinking way to view The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on C.S. Lewis's beloved 1950 novel about four children who travel to a magical kingdom. It's the first half of the lavish-looking Narnia that works best. It captures both the terrors and enchantment of childhood as the four Pevensie children leave blitz-beset London during WWII to take shelter in a country mansion. While playing hide-and-seek, little Lucy (the adorable Henley) conceals herself in an old cupboard, which turns out to be a portal to the wintery kingdom of Narnia. Only later, when Lucy and her sibs join the oppressed Narnian natives in battling an evil queen (Swinton), does the film head south. It becomes a pint-size Lord of the Rings, with grotesque creatures prancing about and the kids unconvincingly making like junior action heroes. You've seen it before, done better.

Guiding the youngsters in their fight is Aslan, a wise lion (voiced by Liam Neeson). Lewis intended Aslan as a Jesus figure, and in Narnia, when the lion sacrifices his life to save another's, the scene plays disturbingly like The Passion of the Christ, complete with beatings and jeering. Then again, my 6-year-old companion was oblivious to religious overtones. Having read the book, he leaned over as Aslan died to reassure me, saying, "Don't worry. He'll live again because he has a deeper magic." (PG)


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