This is the second TV/film adaptation of Narnia and oddly the older they are the more obscure they are.
The first one was ten episodes in 1967. Only two (episodes 1 and 8) are not lost. I found them on youtube, and they are low quality, bad music, and mostly this guy pictured above narrating. Obviously it is… According to IMDB it is the best of all the adaptations? Guess I should check it out at some point.
3rd is what I call the best one (unless 1967 comes through) made by BBC, and the last one is where I was introduced to the series, the Walden film. I never liked it, as it takes itself far too seriously. Our subject is the second adaptation, an animated film from 1979. It came out two years after The Hobbit. Since they both are fantasies from 20th British authors with directors best known for holiday shorts I presume this was made to cash in on the Hobbit. Just liek the Walden film was made to cash in on Jackson’s Middle Earth adaptations. Of note, it is an American film, but for British audiences they made another one with British accents. Normally I would review the original, but the British version is all I could find. From the few scenes I could find with the original cast they are notably better than their British counterparts.
The opening credits are bland, but based on the parentheses I think they planned on sequels. The only god thing about the prequels is this is directed by Peanuts specials director, Bill Melendez. He is great at children’s entertainment and Christian work. That does not mean he is good at adaptations. Surely his simplistic style will go well with the tiht budget of made for TV movies.
The story starts in media res where Lucy tells everyone about the wardrobe and is not believed. The animation is not appealing (and Susan gets way taller later), but at least everyone is easy to tell apart. Unless I say otherwise always assume the animation is really bad. It is not hideous, but it is not fun to look and no one moves very well either. Lucy then has a flashback on her bed about being in Narnia, and I think the story is easy to follow. Sure new viewers will not know why they are in a strange house, but I think most children could guess a few reasons. Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus and gets plenty of rather easy to follow exposition at the beginning of the film instead of the middle of the first act. The problem is Tumnus’s design.
None of the designs are very good, but this is the worst. Wait, in the book he actually described very similar to this, except for the green hair. Like the Walden film the problem is Mr. Tumnus’s scene just drags on and on. The drill from the original book is kept. He was supposed to kidnap her and instead warns her about the white witch (I do not think she was called Jadis yet in the book, and I take this as foreshadowing a film of The Magician’s Nephew which was never made), and he escorts her back to the human world. Edmund always has an angry look on him, and he refuses to believe her. He later catches her going into the wardrobe, and he follows her to prove there is no magical land in the wardrobe. Instead he finds snow and The White Witch.
The biggest weakness in this children’s film is the villain. I never liked the Walden film, but she was done very well there. In there and in BBC she also shows the power of evil as a tempting force that we may think is good until we are in trouble. Here she shouts everything and is super obviously evil. She keeps threatening to harm Edmund instead of make him think she is good. In this scene she hardly mentions making Edmund a king and keeps talking about Turkish delight pushing the part where Edmund agrees to betray his siblings for Turkish delight. The problem is they never mention the candy being enchanted making his reasons less understandable. Thankfully Edmund’s whining keeps the scene watchable, as he is the best character in the series due to his flaws, even if this film harms his motivation. He and Lucy go back and he tells Peter and Susan that there is no Narnia.
The older two talk it over with the professor who is just dull here (a problem Walden also had). All four then venture into the wardrobe and find Narnia. None of his wisdom that mirrors Christian apologetics comes through. Unlike Walden they do not waste time acting like finding snow is so whimsical and let the plot move forward. Edmund gives his lie away by mentioning pathways, and Peter nearly strangles him. It took nearly one third of the way, but the film is good now.
They go to see Mr. Tumnus, but his door is in need of maintenance. A note says he has been captured by the Queen’s secret police. Later Peter and Edmund have an interesting conversation that is normally removed from the adaptations. Edmund tells Peter that Tumnus may have been lying about protecting Lucy and he is a villain while the Queen is the hero. Peter is mildly considering it. This would be more interesting if the Witch was not so obviously terrible, but they at least help children realize that who you think is a villain is not always the case. Edmund’s best point still stands, none of them know the way back home. They met Mr. Beaver who tells them about them being the chosen ones, and Aslan will help them. They make a big point about Aslan being the son of the Emperor and that Aslan is very scary even to his followers. That is very accurate to Jesus. Despite him preaching peace and being based on forgiveness he horrified the priests and the Angels always have to say “do not be afraid.”
Edmund leaves for the witch, and all three adaptations did this scene differently. This film basically copied the book where Edmund has internal monologue, and most of it is exactly like the book. As my brother pointed out most of the best parts of the book is not the plot but the thoughts the characters have, which they would naturally not say to their family. The film shows them thinking it, which is fine, but that works on paper way better than film. Walden did this scene the worst by doing what they normally do, have a lengthy scene of characters just walking. BBC did it the best by having Edmund argue with himself in a reflection. When Edmund mocks a stone lion viewers here will at least know he thought it was Aslan. I also love it how he promises to make roads when he is king. It shows how he does want to help the land, he still mostly cares about himself, his methodical thinking, and desire for greatness in only one sentence.
Unfortunately we then meet the worst character, the wolf captain. He just acts so rowdy like he is completely new to being a secret police member when he is supposed to be a seasoned professional. The witch obviously turns on Edmund and immediately proclaims she will kill them all and the stone Mr. Tumnus cries. The beavers and other humans flee to a hiding place. They see several animals celebrating that it is turning into Spring and the animation then gets notably better (less bad). They see the witch turn them into stone from a distance, and Edmund is showing way more emotion than anyone else, as he is shivering in fear and looking horrified. Some grass is also poking through the snow. The problem is the heroes are walking instead of running making this seem less intense than it should when they flee the witch. Eventually the witch’s sled stops and Edmund finds himself acting as a pack animal.
The heroes finally get to Aslan and his army. I like the golden design, which makes him look more amazing than the average lion. You also see their fear when they debate who goes first to meet him. Aslan instead is welcoming, excited, and warm to them. I could also hear his concern for Edmund. Sure he shows some of the sexism that was in the original book, but since women only recently started actually fighting regularly in wars I will not fault this much. In a cool scene the army then rescues Edmund from the Witch. The army beats the witch, but she escapes by magically disguising herself as a tree stump. Unfortunately this makes problems later. Like why she did not try that against Aslan later.
We then get to one of the most iconic parts. The Queen points out that by the ancient rules made by the Aslan’s father all traitors belong to her and Aslan has to bring Edmund to her. If not all Narnia will be destroyed in fire. Now that the witch is showing the side of evil as a destroyer her over acting is working way better… Until it drags on too long. He is able to get the witch to mysteriously relent. The best part is how Aslan reacts.
He just looks so irritated with her overacting. As all who know the story can predict, he then surrenders himself where he is sacrificed on a stone table. The movie shows his sadness and worry like Jesus had at Gethsemane, but he is not beaten enough. He rises from the dead and he does something that I do not think any other adaptation kept, he then plays with the girls. I am happy to finally see it, as it shows this keeps the original’s mood. Contrary to what the Walden film did Narnia actually had a light hearted tone that was balanced with its religious symbolism. This version succeeds as a micro-adaptation while Walden only worked as a macro-adaptation. He also says there is a battle going on and they need to get reinforcements by freeing the witch’s prisoners. He wastes time with a speech after freeing them. In a serious work this and the playing is a problem, as that time is best spent on the battle, but in this work it does not detract. It is not taking the battle that seriously as Aslan already won the battle for good by beating death. Also as shown in the battle the heroes are being turned to stone (curable) not dying. The battle itself is quite Bad. Large battles are hard to animate with a good budget, and this is really bad except for a brief scene where Peter and Edmund are nearly killed by projectiles. Edmund heroically destroys the wand only to seemingly fall unconscious on the spot. Aslan then jumps on the witch, and she turns to smoke. It looks more like she teleported to safety rather than being killed. Melendez is not good at directing battles.
Aslan then crowns the four children kings and they rule a golden age for around twenty years until they go back home. The professor says “…This is only the beginning of your adventures in Narnia.” I think this confirms my theory that Melendez planned to adapt all seven books.
I think this is the most faithful adaptation. The story is the best part, but the animation really weakens the film. I still consider the BBC version to be the best, and I am torn on whether I consider this to be better than the Walden film. The visuals are way worse, and this also has big pacing problems where they move to slow, but the music is better, the dialogue is better, and the story matches the mood better. Granted the witch and battles are inferior.
As an adult man I would not say I liked it, but I think ten year old me would have liked it.