Quick disclaimer - the Narnia books are beloved far and wide by kids 8 and up. Therefore, I went into the theater with a lot of expectations and willing to let a lot of little things slide. Little things like some occasionally whacked-out acting by the actors in the kids' roles (especially Lucy). Like little blemishes in the effects (with Rhythm & Hues, ILM and WETA behind this project, it surprised me how many effects shots looked like ass).
That said, my kids absolutely LOVED it. Kayleigh actually said, in her ever-ebullient manner, "That was the best movie in the history of the world!" Granted, she is the target age for the book series, and I'm waiting a few more years before showing her Citizen Kane. Call me crazy, but she may not always feel that way.
I enjoyed the film immensely (all effects nitpicks aside). It was VERY faithful to the book, and where it does trim, it trims with love. The cast members were well picked for their resemblance to respective characters, and Liam Neeson I thought was a good choice for Aslan. Many would have opted for a real booming basso like James Earl "Mufasa" Jones or the like, but Neeson has a gentleness to his voice that is very appropriate here. The performances are "by the book" - that is to say, the acting is all very faithful to the novel and does not tread far from the page. No one really pushes the envelope (as I thought Viggo Mortensen did in Lord of the Rings). And that's just fine.
Let me just say the gryphons rock the house. They are the one element that really stands on equal footing with the best fantasy movie bits ever. Oh, and seeing Angus from Highlander in the role of Father Christmas was a nice geek moment. The beavers are cool (Ray Winstone & Dawn French are terrific in their voices). Mr. Tumnus the faun is cool. The wolves are ok. Wasn't really digging the White Witch's dwarf henchman, but Tilda Swinton was quite good in the WW role. Jim Broadbent (a BBC veteran of such comedy as Blackadder) was really charming as the professor. The centaurs are probably the weakest in terms of facial appliances - their makeup was not as well done as it could have (or should have) been. Production design was otherwise beautiful. Score was adequate, if uninspired. Cinematography was lovely. It is perhaps more fair and accurate to equate this film adaptation with the Harry Potter movies, in scope and execution. I've heard many comparisons with LotR, and it's really not even the same ballpark.
Bottom line, if you like the Narnia books and sparkly, fairy-tale fantasy, I recommend it. I wouldn't take a kid under 7 or 8, as there are some pretty intense moments. But it's a nice escape from the bustle of holiday shopping and will eventually go on my DVD shelf alongside LotR and Harry Potter.
Now let me vent about the two things that almost ruined the experience. The lesser of the two was the Star Jones wannabe Montel renegade in the track suit who, in the middle of the climactic scene, decided to get into a loud argument with the patrons around her. She finally did exit in a huff, telling everyone who shushed her, "y'all be trippin'!" I hate it when stereotypes come true.
The second and more irksome thing was that outside the theater were a handful of Christian fundamentalists passing out these cute little cards with some nice graphics from the film and C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles Collectible printed on them - as if to indicate some kind of official connection to the film. On the back, however, was a hardcore tract about how if you'd broken any of the Commandments, you were going to hell. Now, I understand that C.S. Lewis was Christian, and that The Chronicles of Narnia is a Christian analog. HOWEVER... it is also just plain classic fantasy literature, and shame on those hucksters for using it as a bully pulpit to scare children, a most un-Christian act. I'm sure Disney would love to know their film, for which they paid huge license fees to make, was being co-opted by some of the same zealots who urged a boycott of Disney due to their gay-friendly corporate culture. The hypocrisy here is simply astounding.
Fortunately, some of the more clear-thinking parents complained to the theater staff, and the hucksters were driven from the premises. Parents taking children to the film may want to be aware that this is going on, in case you don't want your preteen being threatened with eternal damnation before you actually have a chance to discuss theology with them.
Other than that, a pretty good day.
For the record, I was raised Presbyterian, briefly went to Catholic school, married a Pagan, and wound up with a Deist philosophy (like most of this country's founding fathers). I have nothing against a person's faith, unless it becomes invasive and used as a weapon against others. If more proponents of a given faith would actually live their lives by their own religion's doctrines, we wouldn't have nearly as much strife in the world. Thank God I'm a Deist. Amen. ;)