If you're going to bring a beloved classic to life, you had better do it right - and director Andrew Adamson did just that, largely because of his own special memories of reading the book as a child. The timing for this film was also right - not only because it follows in the wake of the masterful Lord of the Rings series (and there will always be comparisons between Narnia and LOTR, despite their vast differences) but, more importantly, because this film really could not have been made any earlier. I wasn't a big fan of CGI when the technology emerged; I thought it took away from the purity of the medium and, of course, it was oftentimes obviously not real in those early days. When you watch The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though, you see the undeniable magic that CGI has now opened up. This film is heavy with computer animation, and its integration with real actors and sets is virtually seamless. Aslan, by way of example, may well be CGI's highest achievement to date. For one thing, he looks bloody real in every scene, but what is truly amazing is the depth of feeling and emotion that comes through in his face and gestures, particularly during the scene at the Stone Slab.
There's really far more to praise about this film than I have time or room for. I'll just say the cinematography and music are masterful, and the creation of the different creatures (be they computer-generated or wonders of costuming) are incredibly detailed and realistic. I just want to hurry up and talk about the children playing the Pevensie siblings. Do they give awards for best casting? If they don't, they certainly should, and this film would take that prize hands-down. They boys (William Moseley as Peter and Skandar Keynes as Edmund) are excellent, but the girls are nothing short of perfect. There's just something about Anna Popplewell (Susan) that I find blissfully charming. Her character is basically the smart and careful one of the bunch, and Popplewell just radiates nobility and a maturity beyond her years. Young Georgie Henley, though, takes the proverbial cake as little Lucy. I tend to think of this story as Lucy's for the most part. It is she who first takes us into Narnia, and we see that enchanted land primarily through her eyes. Aslan is the central character, but Lucy is really the audience's link to everything that happens. I think you can experience Narnia just by watching Lucy - the childish wonder, the joy of the land's magic, and the heart-breaking sadness of the White Witch's most evil deeds. If you listen to the children's commentary on the DVD, though, you'll be even more impressed with these kids. Georgie is the quintessential child, a fountain of unbridled energy and unabashed honesty, but she also asks the director some incredibly insightful questions about some of his directorial decisions. All of these kids are smart as a whip, but that Georgie truly is something special.
I'm assuming you already know the story here, so I won't go into plot details. What makes the story resonate so deeply is the myriad of interpretations you can take away from it. Clearly, there's a strong Christian allegory at work here, primarily in terms of Aslan, the rightful king of Narnia, but you don't have to view the story in that way at all - although the moral implications of this classic contest between good and evil are obvious and beneficial to all. Your interpretation, in fact, may very well change with each viewing. Children can just enjoy it as an adventure with talking animals, but as they come back to the film over time they will begin to pick up on the deeper meanings of the story. This is one of those rare films that gets better and better with each viewing.
You have to love the bonus features on the two-disc collector's edition. We're talking hours and hours of behind-the-scenes footage and insights into the whole Narnia experience (and a few bloopers). I really love the Kids and Director Commentary, and I would heartily encourage you to watch that. Filmmaker commentary (and there's one of those here, as well) tend to be rather boring. I got more out of the Kids Commentary than I would normally get out of ten filmmaker commentaries. You also have the option of watching the film with interesting facts about Narnia popping up from time to time. If you really want to know how in the world this incredible movie was brought to life, you'll relish Disc 2 and its hours of interviews and film prep featurettes on the casting, design, costuming, creature-making, etc. You can also find really nice information on the different creatures you'll meet in Narnia - and you can even explore Narnia's most important locations and hear a little more about what happens in Narnia after the story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ends. The Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition of this movie is truly the complete package - and a must for Narnia fans.