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, the first film in a trilogy of adaptations by Walden Media and funded by their partners Walt Disney Pictures, was a huge commercial success. The film was a truly global effort, made in New Zealand, England, Poland, the United States and the Czech Republic, and despite the show business maxim advising never to work with children or animals, had its success or failure 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 air raid that threatens their very lives, the four children of the Pevensie family, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are evacuated to the country. 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 of the family, 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 the evil White Witch wants to kidnap humans as she fears a prophecy that almost rhymes which predicts that four humans aided by Aslan will end her rule and restore justice and freedom to Narnia. Mr Tumnus leads Lucy safely back but when she returns home no time has passed on Earth and no-one believes her.
Later that night Lucy returns to the wardrobe followed by Edmund, who encounters the White Witch. She appears warm and friendly, giving him hot chocolate and Turkish Delight, promising more Turkish Delight and to make him her heir if he will but introduce her to his family. When he returns he meets Lucy in Narnia, but doesn't mention meeting the White Witch. He then 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 his house ransacked by order of the White Witch, whom Edmund goes to see. Yet she has Edmund thrown into a cell, petrifies Tumnus into a stone statue and Edmund realises at last that she is a villain.
As only Aslan can save Edmund, the Pevensies journey to meet him while 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 raise and 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 series The Royals (2015+) while Anna Popplewell who played Queen Susan has appeared in Reign (2013-2017). To prepare for the role she was trained to use a bow by an archery Olympian. Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton who was the 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 an unknown but major role in a Game of Thrones spin-off pilot titled Blood Moon, but this did not proceed to a full series.
For the scenes featuring the older Lucy, Lucy is played by Georgie Henley'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 spending his career 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), Atonement (2007) and since 2011 has played Charles Xavier aka Professor X in the X-Men films. Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson has a very particular set of skills that have helped him appear in numerous films, from Krull (1983), starring in 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, with Rupert Everett cast after asking Adamson if he could be in it while promoting Shrek 2. Dawn French is a comedian famous for writing and starring in French and Saunders (1987-2007) and as 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.
Kiran Shah is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the smallest stuntman in the world. Elizabeth Hawthorne who plays Mrs Macready, as is readily apparent, is not British2 and unsurprisingly has not acted in any major films since, although she has had a minor role in an episode of Power Rangers: Super Dino Charge.
Director Andrew Adamson was best known for previously directing Shrek, with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 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 then surprised to discover that there were many scenes which he remembered vividly that barely feature, as CS Lewis wrote very minimal 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 in which the Pevensies experience the terrors of war3, 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 United Kingdom in order to make an accurate bomber cockpit, 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, fleeing from wolves. A full-size set was built in New Zealand with replica icebergs mounted on hydraulics, creating movement when the cast walked on them just like cracking ice. 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 while the background shots were filmed in Poland.
Filming was based in New Zealand, which 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 sets as well as gantry rigs holding lights, microphones and so forth need to be positioned high above the actors' heads. By digging down considerably beneath ground level, enough room to create impressive and tall sets was produced. 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 supplemented with computer-generated background were created. The railway journey itself was filmed on the Severn Valley Railway in Worcestershire and Shropshire, using preserved Great Western Railway engine 7802 Bradley Manor which was built in 1938. Although the actors remained in a train carriage set in New Zealand, they performed against a green screen window, which later showed images filmed in England. Combe Halt itself, where the children get off the train, is also in New Zealand4.
The wardrobe's shape was loosely inspired by Lewis' own wardrobe, only with carvings showing scenes from The Magician's Nephew. The professor's house itself was a computer-generated exterior and a set designed to give a Jacobean look. Inside Narnia, 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 herself 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, for a total of 1,600 effects shots. There were also real animals on set, with ten hybrid wolves filmed. The wolves were only allowed on closed sets and in controlled areas due to New Zealand's strict animal and quarantine laws, as New Zealand does not have wolves or rabies. Therefore for scenes containing several wolves, many are computer generated to boost numbers and look more menacing. Even when genuine wolves are in shot, their tails may be computer generated as they had a habit of wagging their tails, which detracted from the level of threat they were supposed to generate. Similarly, as no reindeer are allowed in New Zealand due to the perceived disease risk, the White Witch's reindeer were achieved with animatronics and computer generation.
As the number of effects required was so vast, more than one effects studio was brought in. 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 originally mute 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, although an animatronic Aslan was used for the scenes of him lying on the stone table.
The fauns, principally James McAvoy who played Mr Tumnus, walked on tiptoe while wearing bright green tights covered in mo-cap marker dots to allow the human legs to be edited out and realistically replaced with computer-generated goat-like legs. The dots help keep a sense of perspective, distance and depth of field to ensure the characters remain in focus. They also ensure that when the actors move during their scenes, the computer records their movement and weight distribution information. The actors who played centaurs, all of whom were over 6'6", stood on 14-inch high platforms while wearing the same tights to allow their legs to be edited out, while in some shots horses wore scarves made of the same material. This allowed the actors and horses to be combined to create realistic centaurs.
To ensure a realistic performance from the cast, full-scale models that resembled stuffed animals were used of the main computer-generated characters to ensure the actors knew where to look for each scene. Although visually impressive, the lack of physical interaction between the computer generated characters and human cast is noticeable, meaning that 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, which was a challenge to make look so shiny and beautiful yet remain 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, with each different species having its own type of armour. 28 swords were effectively real swords used for scenes in which they are being drawn or posed with. Most swords for the main cast were safety swords made from a combination of aluminium and rubber; background characters had weapons made from urethane. In 2008 the Royal Armouries Museum hosted the excellent '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 tweaks to the original novel in order to make the film more dramatic. So for example Lucy discovers the wardrobe when running and playing Hide and Seek, rather than leisurely exploring the house, which also better explains why she entered the wardrobe. The film begins with a dramatic bombing raid, with another new dramatic sequence shows the children and the beavers fleeing the wolves in escaping the dam and later crossing a melting frozen river. The dramatic final battle, 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, who wears an ice crown rather than the gold one of the novel, imprisons Edmund in a cell with Mr Tumnus, who in the novel had already been turned to stone. 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 whole Witch's army's camp rather than only with the witch and dwarf. The White 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, Ginarrbrik, gains a name, inspired by Nikabrik the dwarf who appears in Prince Caspian. Another character whose role is developed further than the book is a fox who plays a prominent role in aiding Aslan, rather than merely enjoying a Christmas dinner, before being turned into stone.
As well as the theatrical cut, an eight minutes longer extended cut was also released for the home market. It contains extended scenes rather than deleted scenes. Among the additions are longer scenes showing the evacuation, 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 more excited by Narnia's snow and winter wonderland woodland, making snow angels. Snow would be a rare, exciting occurrence for the Pevensie children5. The most additions take place during the Battle of Beruna and include a scene in which Edmund bests the dwarf that has tormented him throughout the story, but does not kill him.
Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia6.
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 interest were convinced that the story would not work for modern American audiences unless it was set in modern day America. They especially believed that American children would not want to see a film about British children7. 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 had an effect on 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 as 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. The children have been effectively characterised. Lucy, the youngest, approaches Narnia with a childlike wonder and acceptance of the magic. Edmund's motives for his betrayal 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 then tries to prevent the witch from punishing others by revealing what he knows of Aslan's presence. Yet he learns from his terrible mistakes; though 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 Edmund believes in his brother. Susan reflects on the dangers and suffering of war, reminding them all how the family had left London to avoid war. At the start of the film the family was disjointed, by the end they have united.
Mr Tumnus appears to be a very young faun who does not know how to shake hands and is topless in winter, but has a scarf and an umbrella for the snow. His exact age is unclear as it is implied he has lived for over a century and remembers before the White Witch came and that his father died fighting her. Mr Tumnus has a slightly more prominent role as Edmund is imprisoned in a cell with him. The White Witch tells Mr Tumnus that Edmund 'turned you in for sweeties', which is untrue. At the time Edmund was unaware of who the White Witch was and the consequences of his conversation and had mentioned Mr Tumnus before any discussion of Turkish Delight had occurred.
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, cyclopses and giants. Although she is clearly vanquished, her fate is left unclear.
The child actors' performances are surprisingly powerful and more sophisticated than other films with a large child cast. This is partly being 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 the day that she filmed the scene in which her character Susan says farewell to her mother, and 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. Capturing real reactions gives the film added verisimilitude.
Curiously of the four humans, the witch only speaks to Edmund and Peter, never to Lucy or Susan, although the film passes the Bechdel Test regardless. The female characters in the film are strong and independent characters, though obviously still children. Although when the wolves attack Susan and Lucy, Peter is the one to protect them and kills Maugrim, becoming Sir Peter Wolfsbane, later it is Susan who saves Edmund's life by killing the dwarf threatening him and Lucy also saves his life with her medicine.
Although visually he appears realistic, Aslan remains a very computer-generated lion and is not a solid, tactile presence. This impacts on the story as through being a less believable and distant character, his death is less dramatic. Similarly Aslan has only just been introduced before he leaves 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 the 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.