I haven't read The Chronicles of Narnia since I was a littlekid, but what I remember most is how deeply, deeply sad they made me.
Sometimes centuries elapsed between books! They came back to find alltheir friends were dead forever! Just as I'd get attached to one ofthe kids, they'd grow too old for Narnia and be exiled to the grim,dull real world for the rest of their lives--and worst of all, I knewthat meant the same would happen to every character I liked.When I stopped sobbing long enough to relate these memories to myroommate, he nodded sagely and called it The Chronicles of Narnia:A Study in Loss.
It's powerful stuff, and if my kids weren't too busy earning myblackjack money down in the dirt mines to learn their own names, letalone read books, I'd make sure to buy a mountain of Kleenex at thesame time I bought them the Narnia series.
As for the movies, I wouldn't be worried. Prince Caspian is astep in the right direction, but it's still way too thin to risktraumatizing children well into adulthood.
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It's only been a year in our world since the Pevensie kids who savedNarnia returned to London, but when they're taken back to that otherland, they find that hundreds of years have gone by. Since then, theNarnians have been driven into hiding by the Telmarines, men sothoroughly civilized most of them don't believe in centaurs anddwarves at all.
This leaves them plenty of time to betray and murder each other. Thebirth of lord Sergio Castellitto's son gives him a lawful heir and achance to finally assassinate prince Ben Barnes, the Telmarines'rightful ruler. Soldiers chase Barnes into the woods, where he'sinadvertently rescued by hostile Narnians.
Castellitto blames the Narnians for Barnes' abduction and prepares hispeople for war against them. Barnes meets up with Narnia's returnedkings and queens to prepare their defense, but with the lion Aslannowhere to be found, their hopes remain uncertain.
Prince Caspian improves on the uneven pacing of The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is always nice to see in a movie144 minutes long. Really, it clips along nicely, building a clearplot and aided by a dry sense of humor that was nowhere to be found indirector/co-writer Andrew Adamson's first entry. Granted, I'm soeasily hypnotized by trebuchets, crossbows, and flying monsters that Icould watch medieval combat until my skin merged with the theaterseat, but even the parts where guys were just yakking at eachother--"drama," I think it's called--proceeded far less sloggily thanI feared.
Brisk, even. Maybe too much so: the story of heroes banding togetheragainst a usurping king is made real enough, but Narnia isn't. Yes,it's crammed to the gills with fantastical creatures, with dwarves andgriffins and talking badgers--and few of them seem to be anything morethan humans with overactive thyroid glands.
Peter Dinklage's taciturn dwarf, now there's an individual. Thechivalrous mouse Reepicheep makes a mark (though even he'sdisappointingly shallow). The others aren't much more than windowdressing, a motley horde of myths without any clear culture orpersonality of their own.
So the fact Barnes and the Pevensie kids are fighting for theirsalvation doesn't mean much when their side's no more interesting thanthe smartly uniformed stormtroopers arrayed against them. Likewise,while I respect Adamson's attempts to work in some of author C.S.Lewis' Christian undertones, they're just not compellingly stated. Isit touchy subject matter? Well Christ yes, but that just leaves allthe more room to do something interesting with it. Instead, it feelsdeclawed.
Prince Caspian adds up to both an improvement and a letdown.The plotting and humor are enough to keep it fun as you're watching.There's just too little that will stick with you once the creditsstart to roll. The inevitable sequel no longer feels like it'll bemore punishment than entertainment, but until Narnia emerges from thatvast gray kingdom of Generia, it's just another fantasy movie.