Critics Dismiss ‘Lion,’ But Kids Don’t

Posted December 24, 2005 12:05 am by Tirian

This is an outstanding piece by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass who has graciously allowed us to reprint it here. Enjoy the article and a very merry Christmas to each one of you!

Critics dismiss `Lion,’ but kids don’t
by John Kass
Chicago Tribune

Published December 23, 2005

There were about a couple of hundred children in the suburban theater to see the “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the movie based on one book in the wonderful “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis.

I took my 10-year-old twin boys to see it. The deal was we’d see the film only after they had read the book. They read it, we talked about it, and then the other night, we drove to the theater.

And what I saw there amazed me. On the screen, yes, but in the theater, too. If you’re a parent, or a teacher or have spent any time with kids, you’ll understand:

There wasn’t a peep out of all those kids during the movie.

There wasn’t a sound. Perhaps that’s because wonder doesn’t have a sound. But I could see it in the eyes of my boys, and in the eyes of the other children.

Though some critics treated the movie fairly, many others gave it the back of their hand. It never got the buzz that it should have received, most likely because C.S. Lewis delved into Christian allegory.

I understand. It’s not Aslan the lion that threatens many who ridiculed the film. Instead, what likely threatened them is the understanding of who the lion would have been had Narnia been Earth, and the unyielding message delivered almost 2,000 years ago.

But the kids weren’t threatened. They and their families were of various demographics, and presumably different religious backgrounds.

I don’t think the children were thinking about allegory, or polemics, or comparative religions, relativism, or culture wars.

They were watching a movie about children and a lion and a faun and an evil White Witch, in a frozen land where there was never any Christmas.

And you could have heard the crickets chirping in the theater, if there were crickets in December. You get the idea.

The behavior may have been quite different elsewhere. I’ll find that out when we see the movie again over the holiday break, but on that night, at an early evening show, the children were mesmerized.

Before we had the boys, I was an expert at child raising, with many theories. Now, since I’m a dad, I’m no longer an expert in the child-raising department. Many of those theories have been discarded.

Yet in my limited experience, the one thing I’m certain about is that kids are not silent creatures in theaters.

They’re full of questions and some are too used to talking, as if they were watching TV, and some are compelled to kick their feet, or jab their brother in the shoulder if the brother has filched too much of the popcorn. Sometimes the older ones offer running commentary, adolescents raising a shield against emotions thrown from the screen.

Surely you’ve witnessed such behavior. I have. As a kid, I engaged in all of it at the old Coral Theater in Oak Lawn.

But that evening there wasn’t any yelling, fidgeting or talking. There wasn’t any need to put your forefinger to your lips and “shhh” them.

Throughout the movie, I kept peeking at the faces of my sons. They’re boys and were attracted to the battles and the action, because boys love movie battles of all kinds, but it wasn’t the swordplay and centaurs’ cavalry charge that will stick with them.

What will stick is the sense of gentle wonder in the film, from the first step through the wardrobe into the snowy land on Narnia, to the first tea and toast served by the faun, to the gracious manner in which most characters addressed each other.

And what will stay with me was the pressure from my sons’ hands on mine. It wasn’t during a great battle scene. There weren’t any magic wands involved.

It happened when Aslan the lion spoke quietly on the hillside with Edmund, the boy who loved Turkish Delights, and who, through fear and selfishness had betrayed his family, and was redeemed.

You could see Edmund talking with Aslan, but you couldn’t hear dialogue. That’s when my sons, sitting on either side of me, squeezed my hands.

Aslan the lion fights evil, gives up his life to save others, is tried by his enemies and put to death only to be resurrected and triumph over the witch.

This apparently put some people off, but it wasn’t as if the lion carried a magic ring of evil that could destroy the world, and was helped by elves and dwarfs and a wizard, the ring finally destroyed in a river of molten lava.

It is not as if the lion went to an English boarding school to learn to cast fantastic spells.

Those are other movies, and quite entertaining, as was this one. But unlike the others, this one has Aslan, and all the children watching that evening were in awe.

Column note: I don’t write for the Saturday newspaper, but Christmas Eve falls on Saturday and readers have been asking for my Christmas Eve column. It will run in the Saturday editions and in the early Sunday edition, which is available on Saturday.