Opinion: The Narnia Movies Are Missing Something

Posted July 15, 2017 2:40 pm by fantasia_kitty

All three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.

The Essence of Narnia
By Fantasia Kitty

“The only thing that I find a little bit daunting is that I want this film to remain true to the essence of C. S. Lewis’s work.”
– Joe Johnston, The Silver Chair Director

What is it about The Chronicles of Narnia that drives children to go digging through their closets and wardrobes looking for Narnia? I know when I was little and my mom read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us, my dad pointed out in the back of one of our closets that there was a small door looking thing. Of course we were all excited thinking that if we could just get it open, it might lead into Narnia, but come to find out at a much older age, I learned it was nothing more than the access panel to our bathroom plumbing.

But this question popped into my head when Joe Johnston talked about keeping the “essence” of The Silver Chair in the movie. What does that really even mean? Or perhaps, as I thought to myself, what is it that sets Narnia apart from other popular fantasy novels? Why do readers check the backs of their closets and wardrobes, just in case….?

While others may disagree with my opinion (and that’s fine if you do), none of Walden Media’s three Narnia movies refueled that desire in me to go visit Narnia. Even The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is arguably the best of the three, didn’t quite capture that feeling for me. Movie Narnia wasn’t a place that I was inclined to visit. Why was that? The movies weren’t any more dark or dangerous than the books. Bad things happened to the characters in the books, bad things happened to the characters in the movies. And there was Aslan! Perhaps there wasn’t as much Aslan as I would have liked, but he was there and I loved the majority of the scenes he was in.

Joy

The movies emphasized battle scenes

After thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion what the movies majorly missed out on was the counter to darkness: joy! C.S. Lewis wrote many, many scenes that were so joyful and happy and fun.

Even The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie, which was the closest in terms of adaptation, cut almost everything wondrous that was in the book, with the exception of when Lucy first walks in through the wardrobe. Lewis spends several pages describing the melting snow, but the movie did it in a single cut. Aslan and the girls playing tag and joyfully celebrating his resurrection is not in the movie. And my favorite scene where Aslan brings all of the statues to life, which takes an entire chapter in the book, was cut down to a brief tear-jerking moment to make room for extended battle scenes. I found it so frustrating as I know they filmed scenes like Susan making snow angels and the coronation dance only to leave them out of the final release.

Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.
– The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Ch. 15

The trend continued in the Prince Caspian movie. The wonder Caspian and the Old Narnians feel when meeting the Pevensies? Gone. The romp with the Greek Gods? Gone. Aslan and the girls freeing the Telmarine villagers? Gone.

At every farm, animals came out to join them. Sad old donkeys who had never known joy grew suddenly young again, chained dogs broke their chains, horses kicked their carts to pieces and came trotting along with them—clop-clop—kicking up the mud and whinnying.
– Prince Caspian, Ch. 14

The movie added tension between Prince Caspian and High King Peter

I understand the concern of the filmmakers that adding a party while other characters are in a battle or not having a solid single storyline was perhaps not something that would work on screen, but the tradeoff of more battles cost the movies their Narnian feel and reduced them to standard Hollywood fantasy fare.

Hope for The Silver Chair

Moving onto my point, I feel like after Aslan and the wonder and joy of Narnia is its essence. Admittedly, The Silver Chair doesn’t have a lot of it, maybe that’s why people consider it one of the darkest books. But there is a scene at the end, do you remember it?

This is called the Great Snow Dance and is done every year in Narnia on the first moonlit night when there is snow on the ground. Of course it is a kind of game as well as a dance, because every now and then some dancer will be the least little bit wrong and get a snowball in the face, and then everyone laughs. But a good team of dancers, Dwarfs, and musicians will keep it up for hours without a single hit. On fine nights when the cold and the drum-taps, and the hooting of the owls, and the moonlight, have got into their wild, woodland blood and made it even wilder, they will dance till daybreak. I wish you could see it for yourselves.
The Silver Chair, Ch. 15

I start grinning just thinking about the possibilities of that scene. No other fantasy movie has a great snow dance, no other fantasy movie will have a great snow dance. The stereotypical Hollywood scenario is to make this a battle scene between the Underworlders and the Narnians as opposed to a happy, joyful, dance with fauns and dryads and dwarfs in the snow.

I’m praying the filmmakers take the risk and keep this scene in the movie! That would feel like a true moment of Narnian essence.


Fantasia Kitty is the Discussion Forum Administrator. She has been with NarniaWeb since 2004.
Thoughts? Please post a comment below.

38 Comments For This Story

  • Stylteralmaldo says:

    I was just thinking about LWW movie the other day and was recalling that the Witch’s castle was a more intriguing place to visit than Aslan’s realm. That just doesn’t quite sit right with me if you consider by comparison the draw to Rivendell in LOTR was more favorable to me than Mordor. With that said, one of the more memorable moments in the LWW movie was that White Stag chase at the end. Just a glimpse of him do we see, but because of that, it stayed with me wondering more about it.

    • Anhun says:

      What do you mean by Aslan’s realm? Which part of the movie?

      • sam says:

        I’m guessing they mean, Aslan’s camp. I’m not sure why you’d want to make that intriguing or inviting.

        For me between the book, animated movie, and the modern film, the White Witches castle is always been most intriguing, but that’s part of what makes it deadly. It’s kinda scary and yet Edmund was willing to walk all the way through it.

  • Glumpuddle says:

    This, this, and more this. You said it, FK.

    Dawn Treader didn’t do any better. The longing for Aslan’s country and "wonders of the last sea" are virtually gone. In the movie, they literally decide to look beyond the world because "well, we’ve come this far." The undragoning is a footnote in the sea serpent battle.

    There are definitely things the movies did very well, but they seemed more interested in capitalizing on The Lord of the Rings than trying to preserve what makes Narnia unique.

  • David says:

    Years ago, I read a discussion with Walt Disney about story structure. If you’re going to have a highpoint of silliness (the Seven Dwarves, King Louis, etc ) then you need an equal counterpoint of fear and danger (the Huntsman’s mission to cut out Snow White’s heart, Balloo apparently giving his life to save Mowgli.) CSL knew how to balance the two counterpoints in the Narnia Chronicles, but the movies of PC and VDT didn’t manage that. Let’s just hope the full range of emotion is kept intact in the future movies.

  • David says:

    I agree with Glumpuddle. The longing for the "wonders of the last sea" was drained dry, so to speak.

  • Fireberry says:

    Deeply, profoundly & succinctly right! Though IMHO this is true of too many fantasy/action films these days. (BTW, just saw the new Planet of the Apes movie. Fairly good, but – moments of Joy?: almost zero. I say "almost" because, semi-spoiler, the final scene has just a hint of a "Narnia" feeling.)

  • booksandfireflies says:

    Maybe it’s because I was only 7 when I watched LWW and it was before I read the books, but to me the film did a pretty good job of capturing joy. There were some jokes here and there and when the girls were splashing each other at the creek. And then there was when Tumnus at least described the fauns dancing. However, I do see your point. One of my favorite parts of PC was when they were in the apple orchard all-survival-like, and when Susan nearly cries remembering old Narnia. Of course, I understand why that got left out, but still, it’s the small moments that build Narnia. Even the sad ones, (because doesn’t all sadness acompany some sort of joy?) But I digress. I sincerly hope they add the snow dance, and remember the small Narnia moments, the sad, the joyful and the bittersweet.

    • Glumpuddle says:

      "doesn’t all sadness accompany some sort of joy?"

      Great point. I think what you are talking about is what Lewis called "sehnsucht."

      The PC movie did a pretty good job with the nostalgia and sadness of the old days being gone, but it never delivered on the joy when they finally did return.

      • Friederike says:

        I don’t remember the word "Sehnsucht" in the books. Do you know that this is a German word? I was just trying to think how to translate it. The online dictionary translates it "Nostalgia", but that doesn’t fit. My physical one says:" longing, yearning, which fits perfect.( Have to be careful with those online dictionaries..)

      • The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

        Hi Friederike! Lewis described sehnsucht as an "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what." I’ve found the English Wikipedia page for sehnsucht to have some good information. We also have a discussion about sehnsucht and how it relates to C.S. Lewis/Narnia in The Man Behind the Wardrobe section of NarniaWeb Forum. 🙂

    • Fireberry says:

      The best choice in the Narnia films so far was the casting of Georgie Henley as Lucy. She has a gift of expressing pure Joy (Sehnsucht) with her eyes, and she brought Narnia to life better than any special effect. Even the terrible Dawn Treader movie is watchable because of her (and Will Poulter).

      • Roger says:

        I agree that Georgie Henley carried the first two films with some great help from others. One could tell that there was a real chemistry between them. My complaint about Georgie was the stone table scene. She was 8 or 9 years old and had probably never seen grief. They should have given her an acting coach. That was Andrew Adamson’s fault, not Georgie’s. My guess was that Andrew was focused on the huge battle scene that was only referenced in the book. Andrew made many mistakes in the films because he wanted the big battle and the beautiful shot. He was the perfect Hollywood director.

  • narnia fan 7 says:

    Good stuff fk. I agree the joy and wonder of Narnia has overall been lacking in the film so far.

    I think LWW did fairly good job of this overall. It’s funny that you say the Narnia of the film’s isn’t a place you would want to visit because for me it was, seeing the LWW film is what got me too read the books.

    The lack of wonder and joy is my biggest problem with Prince Caspian. They got sadness of the old days being gone and the longing for them to return right, but they didn’t have really the have the joy of the old days actually returning. Then Dawn Treader didn’t really do anything right.

    I’m hopeful they will improve on this with Silver Chair. And that they keep the snow dance in some form.

  • Ana says:

    In the books the kids love to be in Narnia. Right away it feels to them like their real home and they want to do all they can to help their friends there. In the movies the kids seem to spend their time in Narnia wishing they didn’t have to be there and they help because they should not because they really care.That was what I missed from the movies.

  • Roger says:

    I hope in the Silver Chair that they keep the scene in chapter 13, "Underland Without the Queen", where she keeps the prince from going to Bism by saying that Aslan told her to return the prince to Narnia or die trying. To me this moment is priceless and the climax of the book. After this moment the book is all joy and not to be missed. But this moment sets it off. Brilliantly written. Many people miss the significance of this scene.

  • Larry W. says:

    They couldn’t do the Snow Dance in the BBC Narnia probably because of the budget and the season in which it was filmed. Let’s hope they can do it in the new film. A real scene of wonder was Jill being blown by Aslan into Narnia. I hope that scene will be recreated in the film with more realism than the BBC gave it. And there was also the dead King Caspian being brought to life again. It was a wonderful scene (the wonder of Narnia), and hopefully the new film will include it.

  • JillianP says:

    I agree 100%. This is absolutely spot on! I have always when watching the movies wished to slow down and delight in the scenes that should be delighted in. Here’s to hoping The Silver Chair might be the best adaptation yet.

  • glumPuddle says:

    I think another key things the films have been missing is a strong sense of atmosphere. The world doesn’t have any personality or mood. Lewis always treated his environments like they were characters.

    I hope they don’t skip Bism for this reason. It’s pure atmosphere. And joy, actually!

  • Anfinwen says:

    Something that I think filmmakers miss is the sheer originality. Narnia isn’t like anywhere else. It was written by an academic before the modern sort of formula for fantasy adventures came to be. Lewis wrote un-orthodox things that don’t fit their mold. They try to squish his beautiful, joyful, unique stories into their molds. In doing so they lose much of their charm and personality and life. There are widely accepted rules for making movies (pacing, plot development etc.), but I don’t think a truly great Narnia movie will come to be until someone decides to throw the rules to the wind.
    Concerning the snow dance. I’ve tried to imagine what it could look like on screen. I imagine concentric rings of dancers constantly changing place and throwing snowballs so that the aerial view is something like a snowflake kaleidoscope.

  • Grace says:

    Wow! I havent been on NarniaWeb forum or commented for YEARS but I just had to for this!! You’ve really really gt the nail perfectly on the head about this, about what makes narnia so special.

  • Melanie Millette says:

    Thank you for your article. Maybe the makers of the movies will listen finally.

    I almost walked out of the theatre during Prince Caspian from anger. They turned it into hollywood drivel. Extra despair, extra love interest, extra fight scenes. They missed so much that made the book amazing!

    Maybe by the time they finally get to Magician’s Nephew they will have figured it out.

    What I don’t understand is that most of the fans seem to be in agreement, why aren’t they listening to us? We are their demographic, and we KNOW if they followed the books they would have better success with just about everyone.

    • Roger says:

      I love this thread. The article was great, and it has lead to a great discussion. Melanie writes that she hopes that the filmmakers figure this by the time of the MN film. Hollywood has yet to figure this out after three films. It is time to figure it out now. I love this book, and I want a great adaptation. I saw PC 16 times because I knew it was in trouble. I saw VDT 24 times because I knew that it was really in trouble. I am not doing this again. I want SC to be at least a very good movie. [end soapbox]

  • Mark Sommer says:

    Thank you for this. Yes, it’s the joy that is missing. If Johnston can capture the joy, he will, indeed, have accomplished something great.

  • All4JesusAll4Him says:

    I think they need to reboot the whole thing…the first one was good but not the best…coulda been lots better…as an aspiring screenplay writer and director I believe they should have raised the money for all Narnia books (scripts) then shot them one after the other…then they would be able to get the same actors in the movies and be able to release them like they did with LOTR! Think about it…shoot them in this order…
    The Lion, The Witch and the Wardeobe
    Prince Caspian
    Voyage of the Dawn Treader
    Silver Chair
    The Last Battle
    Horse and His Boy
    The Magicians Nephew

    Here’s why…you need to have the children be a certain age to fit the age in the books…The Lion the witch and the waredrobe, Prince Caspian, Dawn Treader and Silver Chair are so close in time that you need to make them first…the children are growing and your u need to see that…and in Silver Chair Eustace had to be of school age…then last Battle cuz Eustace has to still be young and so does Jill…a horse and his boy cuz Lucy, Edmond, Susan and Peter have to be grown but still in Narnia…then The Magicians Nephew cuz non of the original cast except the white witch from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe are in the cast…when it’s all done and shot and edited then you choose which order to release them and you can release them one after the other like LOTR did releasing them on Christmas Day yearly! I’ve said my peace! I hope someone listens…

  • Lakshmi Bhaskara says:

    One feels that wonder and joy is not something the movie adaptors know much about. They are at home with anger and competitiveness but wonder and joy are alien to them so they feel it is very risky to go down such an unfamiliar path.I will be amazed if they manage to actually give us a Narnian film

  • Astere says:

    All the stories are about Jesus Christ, Aslan. When you remove the Son of God, you lose the meaning and joy of life.

  • Just Queen, not High Queen says:

    I see what you’re saying, but I still wish I could visit the movie’s Narnia world! And I still think there’s some sense of wonder in all three films. It wouldn’t have worked if they spent too much screen time on it, because then you would have gotten complaints from non-book fans that the pacing slowed down too much during those scenes. The music also contributes greatly to the film’s sense of wonder. For me, the films are wonderful and that Narnia will always be my Narnia!

  • Shieldmaiden says:

    I agree with the reboot but go in chronological order since cinema and books are so different. TMN first – origin story of EVERYTHING. A nice scene of Cair Paravel and four thrones with Frank and Helen and their eldest son and daughter – married variously to wood or water gods with families beginning to diversify and launching off to explore all of Narnia. (and it won’t matter if the kids age out.)
    Trilogy 1: LWW/ HHB – 2 parts – think how huge the Narnia universe can expand. End HHB 2 with the Pevensies off to hunt the white stag. Could use the four original actors since they would all be grown.) Caspian. Trilogy 2: Dawn Treader, Silver Chair, Last Battle. Do the Peter Jackson simultaneously filming. May need to shoot creatively: TMN and HHB. Perhaps amend digitally the original LWW where needed as pointed out above and re-release right before HHB. TMN/LWW/HHB film fest! Recast the Pevensies for Caspian and simul-film Caspian, Dawn Treader. Eustace can be a little older and then simulfilm/end with SC, LB.

    Or they could make the book into series and have seven years of well-done, thoughtful adapations rather than hatched 2.25 hr storylines

    I agree those filmmakers who feel the essence rather than the essentials of Narnia are usually horribly off. And I hope with all my heart that the Lewis estate has the rights locked down in perpetuity so Narnia cannot be changed to fit passing cultural phases.

    • sam says:

      I disagree, TMN shouldn’t be first, the way it is written it makes a good prequel, kinda ruins the effect of seeing the lamppost and Lucy being ‘wondered’ at how it got in the forest when you’ve already seen the film about how the lamppost got into the forest.

      I agree with the other things you said, about production. It would be great if they did a full reboot and shot it that way, but I’m afraid it’s not popular enough (in the eyes of a company) to warrant a company footing the money to produce a whole 7 series reboot. I’m glad that we are getting a continuation.

  • Allacin Morimizu says:

    Well said, for I think you hit the nail on the head: the Narnia movies thus far are missing Joy, which would have been a big deal to C.S. Lewis. All the scenes you missed seeing are the ones I missed seeing as a long-time benefactor of CSL’s works. May God bless the efforts of Joe Johnston and his team.

  • Vanessa says:

    I am in FIRM agreement that the missing element is Joy but that is something that can only be captured by a more innocent spirit. Which C.S. Lewis had in droves! even in the harsher realities and books, he could capture that joy. The battle scenes are not the highlight of his books as they are in Hollywood. If they cannot take the movie elsewhere it will be stagnant as well.

  • Aslan#1Fan says:

    Some very good points. =) I agree. I would even say, that the movies deserve to be longer too. Sometimes a 2 hr movie doesn’t do the material justice.

  • John says:

    Totally agree. I felt there was something missing about the movies and your diagnosis is probably correct. Too much emphasis on battles and too little on the sort of items you mentioned, that really make you want to go to Narnia. The LOTR pictures were better in this regard. We get to enjoy the hobbits smoking pipe weed and drinking beer at the Prancing Pony and cooking second breakfast on Weathertop.

  • Ole-André says:

    I can’t agree more. I love Narnia, and I love the universe CSL created. But the films didn’t catch the universe. It rushes along to hits the marks in the Hollywood formula, instead of dancing along and "accidentally" hit the marks. Then it gets predictable, and people gets bored.

    And it suffers with the same thing as LOTR. Thery constructs the stories around the battle, and makes it to a highlight, instead of the battle as an inevitable confrontation between good and evil. Narnia is not LOTR, Game of thrones, The wheel of time or any other piece of fantasy. Narnia is Narnia, and the film makers must find what is unique with this universe. For me, it is the mystery, the characters, the magic, the laughter, Aslan, glimpse of hope and joy, and the aid of Aslan when they get stuck, and his comfort when they needs it the most. And this is crucial to make Narnia, Narnia.

  • HPofNARNIA says:

    The only thing that disappointed me in the first movie was they didn’t add the scene where Edmund was being knighted by Aslan.

  • sam says:

    I guess I definitely have a different opinion than fantasia_kitty. When I read the books I’m not impressed by the joy they instill, they’ve always felt to me a bit silly, like if I were there I’d probably watch from afar but not join in, or I’d take that opportunity to go for a walk in the forest or swim in a river.

    I didn’t really notice these scenes were missing, I feel the filmmakers did a good job of capturing the wonder of Narnia just fine without them, I love Lucy’s reactions to Narnia.

    Perhaps they could have done a longer scene of the Statues coming to life, I did miss that, but on the whole I feel the emotion of the world was captured well.

Leave a Comment

Preview: