Following Peter Jackson’s triumphs with The Lord of the Rings and the continuing success of the Harry Potter franchise, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has sought to plunder another much-loved series of children’s books. Yet after the epic sweep and grandeur of Tolkien and the wit and magic of J. K. Rowling, the fantasy world of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tales with their plum-voiced child heroes seems decidedly pinched and priggish.
Yet Disney and production partners Walden Media pulled out all the digital stops to bring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia, to the screen in 2005. With Shrek director Andrew Adamson at the helm, the filmmakers did a splendid job of translating Lewis’s story to the big screen – Narnia looked suitably magical, the computer-animated creatures were impressive and the actors playing the tale’s child heroes were equal to the task. Best of all, Tilda Swinton’s icy and imperious White Witch immediately stamped herself as one of the best ever villains of children’s cinema.
The humungous battle scene that climaxed the movie, however, gave a clue that The Chronicles of Narnia’s creators were excessively in thrall to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Amply expanded from the book and vastly overextended on screen, the fighting hinted that Adamson and co would rather be in Middle Earth than Narnia.
Prince Caspian, the second in the Narnia series, now available on DVD, has even more swashbuckling action, as the four Pevensie children – Lucy (Georgie Henley, fabulous, again), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley) – return to Narnia to help usurped prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, buff but bland) reclaim his kingdom. Sadly, Swinton’s witch only reappears briefly and there’s no sign whatsoever of James McAvoy’s playful faun, Mr Tumnus.
Instead, the emphasis is on all too human intrigue, even if assorted dwarfs, badgers, centaurs, giants and a sword-wielding mouse voiced by Eddie Izzard