Chapter 1: "Wardrobes Are Overrated"
My daughter has recently been obsessed with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. We’ve read the book together, the whole family has watched the movie together multiple times and then in school this year, her class read the book for an assignment. What I’m saying is that at the moment, I’m FLUSH with Narnian takes.
As for the movie, if you’ve seen it recently, I expect that you have some grand sympathy for me because the movie is very not good. Almost exuberantly so.
The CGI used to animate all the animals outside of Aslan seemed to be going for an MS Paint sensibility.
The child actors are the platonic ideal of average and I’ve seen better action sequences when my youngest plays with her American Girl dolls.
The only person taking the project seriously is Tilda Swinton, a person whose face somehow perfectly captures the duality of good and evil. She could be a cherub or she could be the serpent tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden and both would be pitch-perfect manifestations of these ancient ideas. She is above reproach and I am indebted to her for actually giving some effort in this movie.
Truly though, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (or LiWiWa as I wish we could all call it) is sadly yet another example of literary IP being flung against the cinematic walls with the most minimal effort in hopes that it can somehow become a tentpole franchise fueled mostly by fan enthusiasm, nostalgia, and the need to have something familiar but in a slightly different form.
Sometimes, this works! And honestly you could argue that maybe this did work as the overall budgets for the three movies exceeded $500 milly and the total gross was over $1.5 billy. I’m not a finance guy, but that translates to significant profit.
The problem though was the mass audience malaise and critical rebuking of the movies. You can have one of those things, but you can’t have both and this ultimately doomed the Chronicles of Narnia franchise into obsolescence (for the time being).
However, my daughter doesn’t mind any of this.
Kids are funny in that way because they just enjoy things for what they are and in this sense, they are the critics with the most integrity. There is no consensus to consult, no zeitgeist to echo, and no knowledge of Rotten Tomatoes scores to mimic. It’s just their honest experience of seeing something and reacting viscerally.
My working theory on why she loves this movie so much is because she’s awakening to the idea of symbolism. Not necessarily the specific execution of symbolism in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe just that the idea of symbolism exists. Which, for a certain kind of person, can feel like a drug. It’s like watching a different part of her brain unlock in real time. We talk about how Aslan symbolizes Jesus, we talk about how Tumnus and Edmund both symbolize people and their capacity to do good and then bad or vice versa and we wonder if Turkish Delight exists to mean something deeper or if CS Lewis just had trash taste in sweets.1
In a lot of ways, this book and movie is just an enthusiastic cypher for her; it might have been any book where symbolism is gently introduced, but it just happened to be this book and the unmemorable movie created from it.
But because of this, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe will always exist as a seminal point of reference for her. Though it is mediocre, it’s affect will always be powerful.
And I like this idea of sometimes the underwhelming being empowered by meaning or significance.