We started out the day anticipating a reward for my daughter, Clarashea, who had been good all week (no fussing getting ready for pre-school), should she keep up the streak until 3:30. She succeeded and chose to "go to Candyland!" (She's been saying this for a few weeks and I'm still not sure what she means.) I asked if she meant she wanted to go to a movie and she said, "yes, you know that one about the Candy." Sure. (She knows this has been frustrating me because I don't know for certain if it's a movie she's referring to, or something else.) She quickly changed her request to, "let's go shopping, but not to buy -- just to look -- and I won't cry if I can't get a toy." Music to my ears!
While at the mall, weaving our way through crazy shoppers and huffing and puffing at teenagers and their danged ipod-things, we swerved past the movie theater and I saw there was nothing playing for kids of her age. Still, she demanded I read her the list of films playing. When I got to Narnia, I selfishly began craving it -- thinking she likely wouldn't want to see it, and that it's probably for kids a bit older. Still, I described it to her as "an adventure, like Dora, but real and without that bad-boy Swiper constantly taking her mittens and without the terrible sing-a-longs." She bought it! And, through the old clothing cabinet in the sacred room we began our very own quest to find the truth of Narnia, and whether or not we could go the entire film without having to pee. We succeeded at both.
Even before I entered the cinema with my daughter (while hiding the m & m's we'd bought at Target), I again read that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe had religious themes. Right there on a mini-cut-out-of-the-paper (I really love using-hyphens-!) review, in less than two sentences, more indication that there were obvious religious tones to the film. It's been a while since I read the book by C.S. Lewis, and, frankly, I never saw it as a religious piece. To me, this wonderful epic adventure is simply what it is: a great attempt at capturing what is left of pure story-telling and fantasy in this day and age of teenage-mutant-sky-force-killers-who-save-their parents-part deux movies!
I was wrong to think a child might not appreciate this film, or that she might be scared by it. In fact, she loved it, sat still for two full hours, and only asked about 11 questions (if you don't have children, you might not know that's a remarkably low number). She felt, as I did, that everything, from the colors, sets and costumes to the music, acting and script were fascinating and fun. I wouldn't say it was brilliant, but it was definitely worth the price of one adult ticket.
The young actress who played Susan (Anna Popplewell) was particularly good. She was probably about 15, but played her role with maturity. All four children in the cast were good, but she stood out, and is at an age where I could see her career really taking-off. I wasn't as impressed with the rest of the cast, but to be fair, they were playing goblins, beavers and such.
Tilda Swinton (The White Witch ) was another bright spot, with her very dark delivery and cold one-liners. She was funny without having to try, and created a very believably sad character in a film where most of the characters were over the top. You may remember her from The Beach, where she played the overbearing and very scary, but sexy, Sal. I would really like to see her in a more simple, realistic film -- If anyone can recommend one, I'd be much obliged.
When the day was done, as I expected, my sweet young Clarashea grew tired of window shopping. To her credit, she held out on the fussing for so long that I'm not sure even I totally refrained from whining about the crowded mall and annoying too-many-bag-carrying ladies who don't watch where they're walking. So, we went home.
When we arrived, my wife was on the phone with my mother, and when Clarashea ran into the house yelling, "we saw the witch and the kids and they fell in a closet and there was snow everywhere movie" my wife immediately told my mother, "oh, they went to that movie about Jesus."
What? Wait a minute -- mid-movie-review time-out:
My wife and I have had a few rounds recently about looking too hard for Jesus in everything, and I was not about to let her do it to this wonderful film. So, I replied quickly and quite loudly "It is absolutely not about Jesus, Bryn, holy Crap!"
After the argument with my wife, I looked back at the film and thought, "sure, the lion rose from the dead because he was a willing sacrifice for his cause," and "yes, the forest animals referred to prophecies announcing the arrival of four saviors," and "okay, I seem to recall a certain Armageddon talk amongst the characters of Narnia," and "I suppose a great deal of this story was told through parables and faith-based personal quests where heavenly benefits awaited those who believed in themselves and the power of the light" and, finally, the main characters were "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve." But other than that, I did not see much in the film that could be considered religious. And, hey -- isn't this sounding quite similar to Lord of the Rings? I know a large number of non-religious people who loved that film, so, who cares?
Seriously though, I did not, one time, through the entire two hours of the film, nor the 90-minutes of wading through the swamp of endless bad-mall-walkers, think for a moment of the religious message of this film. Yes, I remember such references to the book when I was young, but the point is, not once through the entire film did it pop into my head. There's a reason for that: I felt the film had no real religious agenda. I'm tired of the constant complaining about religion in public lately. And, I absolutely refuse to believe that religious undertones, or even blatantly obvious references, would interfere with any child's (or fantasy/adventure story lover's) ability to love this film for what it is: a nice adaptation of a fantastic story and a charming and exciting way to spend two-hours at the theater this holiday season. Yes, I argued with my wife and insisted that this film was not about Jesus, because it's not. It is about a group of siblings who put a great deal of faith and imagination into a game of hide and seek, and give us all a reason to believe in the spirit of such make believe things as Santa Claus. Plus, it is a film that challenges children of all ages to hold on to that very precious thing we adults sadly call "pretend."
I'm not a big fan of Christmas as a religious holiday, but I enjoy the spirit of giving and the season of winter and warmth by the fire and family gatherings. And, I am not a big fan of the constant arguing this season over Christmas trees and religious symbolism and separation of church and state garbage-talk that we hear so much of on Fox News! I'm an open-minded person when it comes to religion, creation and all that mind-bending stuff, and I can tell you this: religious or not, this film can be enjoyed by all audiences for what it is.
With that said, on Kirk's scale of 1-100, weighed against the theory of irrelevance, I'd give Narnia a very fair:
GO SEE IT WITH YOUR KIDS AND TRY NOT TO BE TOO JUDGY -- SIT BACK AND ENJOY!
Clarashea gives it a kid-simple:
"I didn't get scared of the witch" and "The girl had a really fun adventure and her brother didn't die."
(We still are not sure whether Candyland is going to be a movie or not.)