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The Chronicles of Narnia:
The business of making a sequel treads a fine line between recap and confusion: explain too much and you risk insulting the memory of the audience; assume the knowledge and you risk alienating new viewers. The approach taken with this sequel errs a little on the side of the latter, to my taste. For a moment, set aside what you might know or remember.
This seems to be the story of four children who are magically transported to a ruin of a castle they claim to remember, where, they imagine, they were once the monarchs.Their explorations leads them to trust fearsome creatures (including, inexplicably, a lion) and to engage in bloody warfare with the indigenous population, on the basis that the current royal family are interlopers (information provided by a badger, a mouse, and a couple of vertically-challenged, over-hairy chaps of indetermined loyalty).
Surely the children are unhinged, or dreaming while waiting for the tube train or something?
With one exception, every adult is a bad guy (the best of the bunch is a treacherous, murderous liar) headed up by the Borg Queen doing her best Han Solo impression. The only good adult is a daft old governor who has taught the young man all the forgotten fairy stories of how things were 1300 years ago, which seems slightly odd. At the end, the children return home after the lion has warned the younger two that they cannot yet escape his attentions. A marvellously scary psychological thriller that in the hands of David Lynch would be inpenetrable, but here has become a delightful fable about, er, imagination, romance (in the sense of chivalrous do-gooding) and the value of the flora & fauna with whom we share this rich earth.
On the other hand, approach this sequel armed with a full knowledge of the first movie, and you have different concerns, but similar levels of bewilderment.
Why are they in London, since they were evacuated last time? Where is the professor? Actually, thank goodness they are out of the clutches of the dodgy professor and his weird house-keeper… Why do none of the children ever mention their parents? Where are the badgers, fauns, wolves of the first movie? Replaced by badgers, mice, trolls?
There's no mention of a wardrobe. How come they left their school uniforms on the beach a la Reggie Perrin and yet these are fully restored when they proceed through the untwisty tree?
The accidental deity of Aslan is played down vastly, as his return (so loudly prophesied in the previous movie) turns out to be a nick-of-time appearance in a wood, to the little girl, rather than the expected clouds-of-glory with angelic fanfares. This just underlines that Alsan and Jesus are so vastly dissimilar that it is foolish to make more of the death/resurrection (it would be better to say death/resuscitation) scene than is warranted.
The feeble ending suggests an ending rather than setting up another sequel, which is, after all, refreshing, as sequels have a tendency to lay the ‘story’s not yet over, folks’ loose ends on with a trowel.
So we’re left with an adventure yarn where the four kids join with another to mobilise the woodland creatures to fight the massed ranks of the bad guys, and win by various methods, some of which were previously seen in LotR (blindsiding), some in the Troy movie (one on one fight) and some in Gladiator (helmets with sculpted face-guards)
The lack of positive adults is a serious concern, as Harry Potter, the Hobbits and the annoying girl with the Golden Compass live lives which revolve around treachery and evil, mentored by grown ups who ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
The character of the eponymous prince moves through some interesting changes as the story advances, which is well-written, and he ends up (much to the delight of the audience in the theatre when I was viewing this) being kissed by Queen Susan. Mind you, when a girl is equipped with lips the size of tractor tyres, it’s likely that they will be required to get involved in some action. Especially when these two characters make sure that the boy gets the horn (and that’s very nearly part of the dialogue – or at least that’s how I remember it).
The child-actors are once again excellent, and the visual effects are magnificent. Aslan’s 10 minutes of screen time involves several expressions and some fearsome roaring (was this made by Disney, or MGM? It’s hard to remember at times) and the fight scenes are violent and blood-soaked, while showing nothing and leaving it to the imagination.
The bridge-destroying sequence was almost as realistic as the sand monster in The Mummy (ie not very), and the coming to life of the arborial friends was directly from LotR. But intertextuality is not always bad, especially when you reckon that Lewis thought of a lot of these things first, and it’s the earlier films that are derivative. Lacking Beowulf and the Vicar of Dibley, the vocal actors include Eddie Issard as Reepicheep as well as Schindler as Aslan.
It’s longish and somehow slow to get going. It also irritated me that while the story was obviously going to need the magic-get-well-healing-potion twice at the end, it didn’t bother to remind us (and vaguely, too) until just before it was needed. I’d have preferred this to be lovingly cuddled by Lucy when she rediscovered it in her conveniently packed treasure chest.