Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1988)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: A story that I still absolutely love
Cons: Over acting; poor effects; slow pacing
The Bottom Line:
A Narnia tale
Slow and dated production
Worse than remembered

Slow Paced Journey to a Magical Country

I fell in love with Narnia when I first discovered it in third grade.  I was in junior high when our local PBS station starting airing the BBC production of the novels.  Naturally, they started with the first, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It was three hours long, and I was enthralled.  I watched it several times twenty plus years ago but hadn’t watched it since until this last weekend.  I’m sorry to find that time has not been kind to it.

As with the book, it is the story of four children – Peter (Richard Dempsey), Susan (Sophie Cook), Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott), and Lucy (Sophie Wilcox).  They are sent out of London during the German bombings at the start of World War II and find themselves in an estate deep in the countryside.  In a spare room, Lucy finds an old wardrobe with the ability to transport you to another world.  At first her siblings don’t believe her, but soon they are all drawn into this world of danger where a White Witch (Barbara Kellerman) has made it always winter but never Christmas.  Are they the key to overthrowing her reign?

Even though I’m sure it’s been twenty years since I watch, I’m surprised at just how quickly parts of this version of the story came back to me.  It was originally shown in three, one hour segments here in the states, and I could tell you where those breaks were as we got closer to them.  I guess they were originally broken into six half hour parts because that’s how we got it on this DVD.

What surprised me was just how slow it felt.  They take plenty of time to show us all the character’s reactions to some things, and there are ridiculous set ups and scenes that don’t really advance anything.  For example, we get a scene of the kids walking to the mansion the first time.  Not a word is spoken, and it really adds nothing to the story at all.

On the other hand, they are very faithful to the book.  Much of the dialogue comes directly from the original novel.  This has always been my favorite in the series, and I got pulled into the story all over again despite the faults of this production of it.  I want to see my favorite scenes unfold again no matter how poorly they turn out here.

Which is a good thing because there are some serious flaws.  The acting is adequate at best.  Most of the kids do okay, although they all could be better.  The White Witch is so over the top, however, that she really detracts from any scene she is in.  Yes, some of her stuff should be over the top, but it is way too much here.

Likewise, the production leaves much to be desired.  The animals are all humans in costume.  It works, and I can’t really fault them for it.  However, they have the wolves (the Witch’s secret police) transform into real wolves for any scene where they are running, a choice that is laughable.  Also laughable are the scenes that include some of the more fanciful creatures, all of whom are animated.  It’s not worked into the rest of the scene very well and looks pretty fake.  The exception to this is Aslan, the lion.  He is a full sized robotic animatronic character, and he is very well done.

And yet, as I said, I couldn’t stop watching.  My love for the story carried me beyond the flaws of the production.  Still, my first choice for this story will always be the far superior recent theatrical version which captures the story perfectly with much better effects and acting.

So if you can find this version cheap (I got a set with all three for $5), it is worth getting this version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  However, be prepared for very low budget and dated effects and over the top acting.

This review is part of the 2014 Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge.  (I know, I know.  But I've already reviewed all of the books.  What can I say?)


  1. Fun review. I probably won't run out and get this, but I liked reading about your experience, then and now.

    Joy's Book Blog

    1. This definitely isn't one to run out and buy, but I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about my experiences then and now.

  2. I found it boring when I was young. My opinion gradually changed - although I think the 2005 version is better. (I liked both of the 1988 version's sequels better - particularly The Silver Chair, which was my favourite.)