Into the Woods
Yes, it’s sort of even more Lord of the Rings-ish than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was — I’m talking about the movies here — what with warrior trees and some deadly magic on a raging river and all the battles and creatures and so on. For which you cannot honestly put all the blame on director Andrew Adamson, who also wrote the screenplay with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who jointly wrote You Kill Me), because all those things are in C.S. Lewis’s book. You can maybe blame Lewis for being such pals with J.R.R. Tolkien that they argued about stuff like God and morality and such and ending up riffing on each other in their fiction. But they’re not around to complain to anymore.
So ya gotta feel for Adamson (Shrek 2), who must have said to himself, “Crap, Jackson just did this, the trees and the river and all, and did it so well….” And ya gotta admire him for dealing with it as he does here, in Prince Caspian, by just plowing through and getting it up on the screen without a lot of fuss or showing off. By letting the real charms of his second outing with The Chronicles of Narnia flow much as they did in the first one: by not lingering on the spectacle but on the sweetness of what is unique here, in the child characters and the enchanting talking animals. Which makes Prince Caspian even more like Lord of the Rings Babies than Wardrobe, but you know what? That’s great. Guess who steals the show here? It’s Eddie Izzard (Ocean’s Thirteen) as the voice of the warrior mouse Reepicheep… and the CGI wizards who animated him. Just adorable.
But things are a bit more intense this time out, too. The Pevensie kids have been magically transported from World War II England back to Narnia a year after they left, but 1,300 years have passed in the magical realm, and the critter Narnians — talking badgers and fauns and centaurs and mice and minotaurs (the minotaurs are extremely cool) and so on — have been subjected to a genocide by the invading human Telmarines. Hoorah for children’s movies with their talking badgers and their genocide! The concept is not fixated on, so mommies and daddies may escape some awkward questions from the kiddies, but the fight for survival the Narnians are engaged in is what the film is all about, and while there isn’t a lot of blood or gore — there isn’t any, in fact — there are lots of scary-thrilling moments, and unpleasant ones too. When the eldest Pevensie and Narnian High King Peter — he’s meant to be about 16; actor William Moseley is now 21, and a sweetly charismatic screen presence — leads an attack on the Telmarine castle that goes badly, he’s forced to make a tough decision, as leader and military commander, that is handled by Adamson — and Moseley — with surprising depth and feeling. Again: it’s not drawn out, not turned into the kind of drama that would drag down what is, for the most part, a romp of a flick, but it’s there enough to lend some genuine heft. And it’s a nicely balancing bookend to the rousing, enthusiastic cry with which Peter opened the battle: “For Narnia!” Which I admit gave me a little chill.
And then there’s the Telmarine Prince Caspian (played by 26-year-old British stage actor Ben Barnes in his first major film role — he had a small part in last year’s Stardust — which makes the character twice as old as he is in the book, but who cares, because there will be much sighing and daydreaming from the junior-high set, and not a little from, ahem, us older gals, too). His uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto: Mostly Martha), who’s got his eye on the Telmarine throne in the wake of the death of King Caspian, our Caspian’s father, wants his nephew dead, and there’s the fun way the movie opens: with Miraz’s men attacking Caspian in his bed. Good luck getting the kids to go to sleep after that.
So Caspian flees… into the mysterious woods of Narnia. Where he meets a talking badger and a warrior mouse and a dwarf named Trumpkin (the always wonderful Peter Dinklage [Death at a Funeral], who makes himself stand out even under layers of latex) and ends up siding with the Narnians against his uncle for the throne of the kingdom… and the betterment of all Narnia, of course. Oh, and of course he meets the Pevensies, too, the “kings and queens of old” who’ve returned to help Narnia in its hour of need, and gets to butt heads with Peter a bit over who’s in charge and who isn’t.
Aslan is back, bringing the “deep magic” of Narnia into play, and even the White Witch makes a brief appearance. But if you think two pretty boys with swords ain’t the icing on the fantasy cake for me, well, you’d be wrong.