Animation: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
BBC: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader | The Silver Chair
Walden Media: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Prince Caspian | The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
In 2005, CS Lewis' beloved tale The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was brought to the cinema screen for the first time, 58 years after this popular children's classic set during the Second World War was published. This film, the first in a trilogy of adaptations by Walden Media, was a huge commercial success. Funded by Walt Disney Pictures, the film was a truly global effort, made in New Zealand, England, Poland, the United States and the Czech Republic. Despite the showbusiness maxim advising never to work with children or animals, its success or failure was dependent on the talents of four unknown and inexperienced child actors as well as the realism with which Aslan, the titular lion, could be created.
After a violent, life-threatening air raid, the four children of the Pevensie family, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are evacuated to the countryside. There they stay in a huge house with the eccentric Professor Kirke and his fierce housekeeper Mrs Macready. On a rainy day they play hide-and-seek. Lucy, the youngest child, hides inside a wardrobe in a spare room. Inside is a magical winter wonderland called Narnia.
In Narnia she meets a faun1 named Mr Tumnus, who invites her to his home for tea. He confesses that an evil White Witch wants to kidnap humans as she fears a prophecy that four humans aided by Aslan will end her rule and restore justice and freedom to Narnia. Mr Tumnus leads Lucy safely back, but no time has passed on Earth and no-one believes where she has been.
That night, Lucy returns to the wardrobe and is followed by Edmund. In Narnia, Edmund encounters the White Witch. She appears warm and friendly, giving him hot chocolate and Turkish Delight. She promises more Turkish Delight and to make him her heir if he will introduce her to his family. He meets Lucy in Narnia, but doesn't mention meeting the White Witch. At home, he tells Peter and Susan that Narnia does not exist and that Lucy was lying. Upset, Lucy runs to the Professor, who quickly believes that Narnia is real.
After accidentally breaking a window, the Pevensies hide in the wardrobe and enter Narnia. They discover Mr Tumnus has been arrested for fraternising with humans and had his house ransacked by order of the White Witch. Edmund goes to see the Witch, but she has him thrown into a cell. She petrifies Mr Tumnus, turning him into a stone statue, and Edmund realises at last that she is a villain.
The Pevensies learn that only Aslan can save Edmund, so they journey to meet him while being hunted by the Witch and her wolves. They meet an unexpected ally on their journey, who gives them presents of magical weapons. Who can they trust in Narnia? Will Aslan be able to help Edmund, and what will be the cost? Can Peter lead an army against the powerful White Witch?
|Lucy Pevensie||Georgie Henley (Older: Rachael Henley)|
|Edmund Pevensie||Skandar Keynes (Older: Mark Wells)|
|Peter Pevensie||William Moseley (Older: Noah Huntley)|
|Susan Pevensie||Anna Popplewell (Older: Sophie Winkleman)|
|White Witch||Tilda Swinton|
|Mr Tumnus||James McAvoy|
|Aslan||Liam Neeson (voice)|
|Mr Beaver||Ray Winstone (voice)|
|Mrs Beaver||Dawn French (voice)|
|Mr Fox||Rupert Everett (voice)|
|Professor Kirke||Jim Broadbent|
|Father Christmas||James Cosmo|
|Mrs Helen Pevensie||Judy McIntosh|
|Mrs Macready||Elizabeth Hawthorne|
Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen in film and television: William Moseley who played King Peter has since starred in The Royals (2015+) while Anna Popplewell who played Queen Susan (and was trained to use a bow by an archery Olympian) appeared in Reign (2013-2017). Tilda Swinton (White Witch Queen Jadis) was Queen Isabella in Edward II (1991). She also appeared in The Beach (2000), won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Michael Clayton (2007) and played The Ancient One in Doctor Strange (2016). In 2019 Georgie Henley was cast in a major role in a Game of Thrones spin-off pilot titled Blood Moon, but this did not proceed to a full series.
The older Lucy is played by Georgie's older sister Rachael. She is not the only one of the main cast to have family involvement in the film: as Skandar's voice broke during filming, his sister did some additional dialogue recording on his behalf. What Skandar's great-great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin would have thought of his descendant working alongside talking animals is unknown. Skandar's great-great-uncle, Depression-era economist John Maynard Keynes, however, would have been surprised by the prestigious budget the film enjoyed.
James McAvoy has starred in films such as The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Atonement (2007). Since 2011, he has played Charles Xavier aka Professor X in the X-Men films. Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson has 'a very particular set of skills' - he has appeared in numerous films, from Krull (1983), Schindler's List (1993), Star Wars: Episode I – the Phantom Menace (1999), Love Actually (2003), Batman Begins (2005) and the Taken trilogy (2008-2015) to name but a few.
The voice artists were cast after filming had finished. Rupert Everett had asked Adamson if he could be in the film while promoting Shrek 2. Dawn French is a comedian famous for writing and starring in French and Saunders (1987-2007) and played the titular Vicar of Dibley (1994-2007). Ray Winstone is best known for playing hard-man roles on British television and has also appeared in films such as Sexy Beast (2000), Cold Mountain (2003), Beowulf (2007) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2009). Jim Broadbent is another highly-respected British actor famed for numerous roles in series such as Blackadder and the Harry Potter films.
Kiran Shah is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the smallest stuntman in the world. Elizabeth Hawthorne (Mrs Macready), as is readily apparent, is not British - the New Zealander wins the 'Worst attempt at a Southern/West Country/Yorkshire/Midlands/Irish/Scottish/London accent in a Disney film since Dick van Dyke' award, as each word emerging from her mouth seems to originate from somewhere completely different.
Andrew Adamson was the director of Shrek and Shrek 2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was his first live-action film. Having loved the story as a child, he began by writing down his memories of what happened in the book before re-reading it. He was surprised to discover that there were many scenes he remembered vividly that barely feature in CS Lewis' descriptions.
For example, the story's wartime setting is simply covered with the line 'It was during the bombing raids in London'. These eight words inspired the opening sequence of the film, in which the Pevensies experience the terrors of war2, thus explaining the reasons for their evacuation. The attention to detail in this sequence was immense; a genuine Heinkel bomber's cockpit was shipped to New Zealand from the UK in order to make an accurate replica, which only appears very briefly in the film.
Filming took place all around the world. There were 75 sets built in three countries: New Zealand, England and the Czech Republic. Segments filmed in different countries could contribute to make one scene. Perhaps the most complex was the sequence in which a frozen river melts while the children try to cross it. A full-size set was built in New Zealand with replica icebergs mounted on hydraulics, creating movement just like cracking ice when the cast walked on them. A number of model miniatures were constructed and filmed in Los Angeles, a water tank in Prague was used for when the children are swept along in the river, and the background shots were filmed in Poland.
New Zealand had advantages and disadvantages. The country boasted fantastic locations, notably for the battle scene which was filmed at Flock Hill, South Island, but there was poor film studio availability. To combat this, the Kelly Park Sound Stage was created. This, a former equestrian centre, was originally not tall enough to be used as a film studio, where gantry rigs holding lights, microphones, etc need to be positioned high above the actors' heads. The ground level was lowered to create enough room. Real locations in the Czech Republic inspired the exterior look of Mr Tumnus' house; moulds of the rocks in the area were taken so that when the recreated set was made indoors in the studio in New Zealand, it matched perfectly.
For the train journey sequence, a model Paddington Station and full-scale set were created, supplemented with computer-generated backgrounds. The journey itself was filmed on the Severn Valley Railway in Worcestershire and Shropshire, using preserved Great Western Railway engine 7802 Bradley Manor (built in 1938). The actors were in a train carriage set in New Zealand, performing against a 'green screen' window, which later showed images filmed in England. Combe Halt, where the children get off the train, is also in New Zealand3.
The wardrobe's shape was loosely inspired by Lewis' own wardrobe; it has been carved with scenes from The Magician's Nephew. The Professor's house was a computer-generated exterior and a set with a Jacobean look. The formation of snow crystals inspired the White Witch's sleigh, which was made of aluminium, while her castle was built to look as if it was made of ice. The Witch wears seven costumes during the film, which darken to reflect her mood. As she loses power her crown grows smaller. One noteworthy detail is that in the final battle she wears Aslan's mane as a collar.
The special effects are highly impressive. There were over 30 types of mythical creature and animal in the film, 23 of which involved actors wearing prosthetics while the other species were computer-generated. The ten hybrid wolves were only allowed on closed sets and in controlled areas due to New Zealand's strict animal and quarantine laws - New Zealand does not have wolves or rabies. For scenes containing several wolves, many were computer-generated. Even the genuine wolves may be partly computer-generated as they had a habit of wagging their tails, which detracted from the level of threat they were supposed to project. Similarly, no reindeer are allowed in New Zealand, so the White Witch's reindeer were created with animatronics and CGI.
As the number of effects required was so vast, more than one studio was involved. Sony Pictures Imageworks made the Beavers, whose running style was based on raccoons as it was felt a beaver's real run looked unrealistic. The animatronic Minotaur head was so impressive that Adamson gave the character dialogue to ensure that he had a larger role. Most shots of Aslan were created by studio Rhythm & Hues, who animated 5.2 million hairs on his body in order to create the most impressive level of detail imaginable. An animatronic Aslan was used for the scenes of him lying on the stone table.
The actors playing fauns walked on tiptoe while wearing green tights covered in mo-cap marker dots to allow the human legs to be replaced with computer-generated goat-like legs. The actors who played centaurs, all of whom were over 6'6", stood on 14-inch high platforms while wearing similar tights, while in some shots horses wore scarves made of the same material. This allowed the actors and horses to be combined as centaurs.
Full-scale models (like stuffed animals) of the main computer-generated characters were used to ensure the actors knew where to look for each scene. However, the lack of physical interaction between the computer generated characters and human cast is noticeable - in particular, Aslan does not have the same tactile, physical presence he does in the earlier BBC adaptation.
One of the film's most stunning aspects is the armour. It was a challenge to make it look shiny and beautiful yet non-reflective so that the camera crew did not inadvertently appear in reflections. 1,200 swords and other weapons were made by 100 craftsmen of the Weta Workshop. Each different species had its own type of armour. Most swords were safety swords made from a combination of aluminium and rubber, but 28 were real; background characters had weapons made from urethane. In 2008 the Royal Armouries Museum hosted the 'Arms & Armour from the Movies: the Wonderful World of Weta' exhibition in which the weapons seen in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and other films were displayed.
Differences from the Novel
There are several differences from the original novel that make the film more dramatic. For example Lucy discovers the wardrobe when running and playing Hide and Seek, rather than when leisurely exploring the house, which also better explains why she entered the wardrobe. The film begins with a bombing raid, while another new sequence shows the children and the beavers fleeing from wolves and crossing a melting frozen river. The First Battle of Beruna is also all-but absent from the novel, as the narrative follows Lucy, Susan and Aslan who arrive at the fight's climax.
The White Witch wears an ice crown rather than the gold one of the novel. In the novel, Mr Tumnus had already been turned to stone, but in the film Edmund sees it happen. This allows Edmund to see the consequences of his actions and how it affects those around him, making his journey more believable. When Edmund is rescued he is on the outskirts of the Witch's army's camp rather than only with the Witch and dwarf. The Witch is elsewhere in the camp in the film and does not hide by turning herself and the dwarf into a tree stump and rock.
Otmin, the White Witch's Minotaur general, and the centaur Oreius, leader of the Narnians, do not appear in the book. The Witch's dwarf gains a name, Ginarrbrik, inspired by Nikabrik the dwarf who appears in Prince Caspian. Another character whose role is developed further than in the book is a fox - the fox plays a prominent role in aiding Aslan, rather than merely enjoying a Christmas dinner before being turned into stone.
An eight-minutes-longer extended cut was released for the home market. It contains extended scenes rather than deleted scenes. Among the additions are: a frozen fish caught by winter, the wolves ransacking the beavers' dam, and more frozen statues in the White Witch's palace. There are delightful scenes in which the children are excited by Narnia's winter wonderland, making snow angels4. The Battle of Beruna includes a scene in which Edmund bests, but does not kill, the dwarf that has tormented him throughout his journey.
Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia5.
Finally an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was made for cinema, and delightfully it was true to the story and spirit of the book. One of the reasons why it took so long before an adaptation was made was because the American film studios who expressed an interest6 were convinced that the story would not work unless it was set in modern-day USA. They especially believed that American children would not want to see a film about British children. Only after the success of the Harry Potter films and The Lord of the Rings trilogy was this belief challenged. Both big-budget fantasy series influenced the film, which was made with the setting, care and attention to detail that it deserved.
This does not mean that the story has been rigidly stuck to. The additional bombing raid sequence visually and clearly explains to viewers unfamiliar with British wartime history why the four children are being sent away from home. Edmund's motives are made understandable so that he is a more sympathetic character than in the novel. He feels that Peter is trying to replace his father and so rebels against his authority. He is taken in by the White Witch's lies and does not realise the consequences of his actions until it is too late. He learns from his terrible mistakes; although at the start of the film he blames others for his failings, he becomes determined to take responsibility for his actions and refuses to allow anyone else to suffer because of him, earning his title King Edmund the Just. Similarly Peter has self-doubt, blaming himself for Edmund's betrayal. He wonders how he can lead an army when he could not keep his family safe. Yet at the end his brother believes in him. Susan reflects on the dangers and suffering of war, reminding them all why the family had left London. At the start of the film the family was disjointed - by the end they have united.
In films of this nature the story is dependent on the threat posed by the villain, and the White Witch is highly effective. Her origins are not mentioned, leaving her powers ambiguous. She is an incredibly skilled swordswoman, yet her crown shrinks as her power weakens. She is a force to be reckoned with in the battle scene, with her chariot pulled by polar bears, as she leads her army of minotaurs, dwarves, cyclopes and giants. Although she is clearly vanquished, her fate is left unclear.
The child actors' performances are surprisingly powerful and more sophisticated than in other films with a large child cast. This is partly down to their talent but also by the director filming genuine emotion as much as possible. For example, to film Lucy's first reaction to the magical world of Narnia, he filmed actress Georgie's first glimpse of the Narnia set. Anna Popplewell's mother left New Zealand on the day that the scene was filmed in which Susan says farewell to her mother. The scene at the end in which Lucy knows Aslan is leaving was filmed when James McAvoy, who played Mr Tumnus, was leaving the shoot.
Curiously, the Witch only speaks to Edmund and Peter, never to Lucy or Susan, although the film passes the Bechdel Test regardless. Lucy and Susan are strong and independent characters, though obviously still children. Although Peter is the one who kills Maugrim when the wolves attack, becoming Sir Peter Wolfsbane, later it is Susan who saves Edmund's life by killing a dwarf, and Lucy who saves Edmund's life with her medicine.
Although visually he appears realistic, Aslan remains a computer-generated lion, not a solid, tactile presence. This impacts on the story - being a less believable and more distant character, his death is less dramatic. Similarly Aslan has only just been introduced when he leaves the camp to be sacrificed. This means that his death has far less impact than Gandalf's similar sacrifice in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
That said, there are several delightful little moments in the film that more than make up for that. These include Edmund's hot drink cup turning to snow after it has been finished with, Mr Tumnus' roaring fire, with flames resembling horses and dancing fauns, that roars like a lion when Tumnus is considering betraying Lucy to the White Witch. Significantly, the Professor at first appears sceptical about the existence of a magical land until Susan mentions it is in the wardrobe, in a lovely expressive moment.