A Fresh Look at the Animated Narnia Movie | Talking Beasts

2019 marks 40 years since the animated adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aired on CBS. It was viewed by 37 million people and won an Emmy. Does it hold up today? Is it faithful to the book? How does it compare to the 2005 live-action movie?

Special Guest: Kristi from TheLionsCall.com

Note: This episode was recorded before the death of Stephen Thorne, the voice of Aslan.

Podcasters: Rilian, Glumpuddle, Kristi


21 Responses

  1. JFG II says:

    I know nothing can be done about it, but I would have liked to have heard the reactions to Aslan’s voice actor passing away. This is like the perfect podcast to have done that. Great discussions by the way!

    • Kristi says:

      I was sad to hear that. I love the way he captured Aslan. There’s such power in his “YES, IT IS MORE MAGIC.” I missed that line and delivery in the Walden films. Also, from my childhood I have two voice actors that sort of register in my mind as the “Voice of God.” The other one was the voice of Superbook.

      Thank you for my first meeting with Aslan, Mr. Thorne.

      • Col Klink says:

        I actually think it was a good thing they cut that line out of the Walden movie (though I felt that scene was pretty lame and anticlimactic in that adaptation.) Hearing the voice of a supposedly dead character and then having the characters slowly turn around and see he’s alive has a comedic, even corny feel to me.

  2. narnia fan 7 says:

    Of the three adaptation of LWW, this is my least favorite. Just as a movie I honesty don’t think it’s vary good. The animation is an eyesore, I don’t care for any of the character designs (especially Mr. Tumnus, yech) and the voice acting is passable, I guess. (Definitely not a fan of how over the top the Witch is, I just can’t take her seriously at all.) It’s interesting to hear you guys talk about this version keeping the tension up, because I didn’t really feel any tension at all, I’m not sure why, but nothing in this really has any impact for me. The only real enjoyment I remember getting out of it were the unintentionally funny moments like the “chase” scene and Aslan killing Jadis, which looks straight out of a Looney Tunes short.

    As an adaptation I think it’s about on pair with the BBC version in that, while it’s technically pretty accurate to the book to the point of almost being word for word, but I don’t think it really captures much of the books wonder or tone, to me it ends up being a mostly boring lifeless retelling of the book.

    The opening is an interesting choice, but personally I don’t think it works that well. I realize the point was really just to cut out some of the start of the book in order save time/money. But, just as a film, you’d think the reason they’d want to make that change would be to build up the mystery of wether or not Lucy was telling the truth about the wardrobe. But they don’t really do that, they just immediately cut to a flashback showing that she was indeed telling the truth. So any attempt to build a mystery falls completely flat. I also think it robs Lucy’s first entrance into Narnia of power, since you don’t get the build-up and contrast of going from ordinary and mundane to sudden stepping into another world.

  3. Jonathan Paravel says:

    Glumpuddle mentioned at the end of this episode that the podcast hosts are sometimes criticised for being too negative about the Walden films. I had a thought about that. To me, there are two good reasons why people are more likely to judge the Walden films harshly.

    Firstly, they are the only Hollywood-produced live action versions of the stories. Thus, they feel like they should be the definitive adaptations of the stories on film.

    Additionally, the production values are such high quality that it might make it easier to judge other parts. The CGI looks great, the acting is Hollywood standard and sets, costumes and music are really good quality too. Therefore we hold the films to a high standard across the board.

    I have only seen the 1979 animated version once in full. That was in Year 7 at school when we were studying the book in English. I remember being disappointed about the start of the film. You mentioned that you thought that was a good thing. However at that time I was at the age of twelve and probably very protective about the books and wanted an adaptation that was scene for scene. I also remember feeling disappointed that the gifts were given by Aslan and not Father Christmas. To me, this was a huge gap.

    I have found a file of it on Youtube so I will watch it soon and see what I think of it now that I am an adult.

    • Frodo Lives says:

      About Narnia Netflix: If Netflix gets cold feet when adapting Father Christmas in LWW, they could always have the children wake up to find themselves surrounded by presents with notes from Santa Claus. This would give reason to hear his voice talking to each child without actually seeing him. (Which is how it should be for kids).
      In that case, Edmund should wake up in to a small but hot breakfast…

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        I think that’s a clever idea, plus it would keep them from remaking the sleigh chase scene in from Walden’s LWW.

        Also (please nobody hate me) I think doing that would be a nice round about way of not having Father Christmas tell the girls they shouldn’t fight. Regardless of what one’s interpretation and stance are on such things, I’d rather avoid a bunch of trolls accusing Lewis of being sexist.

  4. Col Klink says:

    Thank you so much for including those audio clips because I remembered the voice acting from this being bad (that’s one of my main reasons for disliking it) but I didn’t remember just how awful it was. Did the White Witch’s VA receive any direction other than “talk louder?” LOL.

    I also have big problems with the character designs being too cartoony. Not that I have a problem with cartoony animation as a thing but it really doesn’t mesh with the tone of the book at all. My ideal for an animated adaptation of Narnia would be no cartoony designs at all but I’d reconcile myself with them following the convention of having the serious characters (like Aslan-who has an afro in this version-and the Pevensies) have realistic designs and the more comedic characters (like Tumnus and the beavers) being cartoony. Here every characters has a cartoony design and it feels really awkward. If these were the character designs the estate approved of, I wonder what the off-the-wall ones were.

    I’d like to say I respect Bill Melendez as a director. He did some great work for the Peanuts and Garfield specials. I just don’t think his style suited Narnia that well. There are a few things I remember admiring about this movie. The backgrounds are very nice. I love the little lines that give them a textured look. It kind of reminds me of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations actually. The opening credits montage I recall being really good. Then Lucy comes out and it all goes downhill.

    Anyway, I loved hearing the podcasters analyze a lesser known Narnia adaptation. I’d enjoy hearing them talk about the BBC radio dramas of Narnia too. It’d be interesting to compare them to the more famous Focus on the Family Radio Theatre dramas. Speaking of the Radio Theatre ones, they have my favorite take on the White Witch. She feels more like the book character than any of the other adaptations do to me. She’s less controlled and aloof than the Walden version but she doesn’t scream every line and play to the back of the theatre like the BBC miniseries or this cartoon. (I do love Tilda Swinton’s performance on its own terms though.)

  5. Cleander says:

    I’ve only seen a few clips from the American version, so perhaps I haven’t seen this at it’s best. I do however think it’s fair to say this can hold it’s own against the BBC version. Most cartoons probably can. XD
    I don’t know what causes this White Witch overacting syndrome, but hopefully modern medicine can stamp it out before it reaches the Netflix series… though Tilda Swinton didn’t seem to suffer from it. Thank goodness.
    The Walden LWW has always been the definitive version for me, despite its flaws ( and I can only think of maybe 3 or 4 small ones.)
    Of course, this discussion now has me feeling like I have to go watch the entire British version…

  6. Monty Jose says:

    I couldn’t get past the fact that Tumnus looked basically like a demon. So I never watched the whole thing. Also, I find the animation to look so crude that I could enjoy the visuals. To be fair, I’ve been spoiled with cutting edge animation most of my life, so I’m not the best judge.

  7. Larry W. says:

    I actually liked the BBC Narnia series better than this 1979 cartoon. The real people acting the roles made the difference for me. Animated films of Narnia don’t seem to work so well for me. I liked the cartoon of The Hobbit, which was made only a couple of years before. I thought the animation of that film was better and showed a lot more detail. The Narnia cartoon was a bit too flat (there was not much in the background) and somewhat boring.

  8. Reepicheep775 says:

    I kind of a strange viewing experience with this. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve seen a Narnia adaptation I haven’t seen before, but watching the animated film… I was utterly bored. Most of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book and I found it kind of distracting. I always knew, more or less, what the characters were going to say or do and that may have had something to do with my boredom. It makes me wonder what exactly I want out of an adaptation. I think I do want some experimentation, an artist’s interpretation of the story. With a slavish adaptation like this, I feel like I may as well just read the book. Heaven knows the visuals in my head are way better than this animation.

  9. Frodo Lives says:

    (Side-note: I have not seen the British version. That wasn’t around for me when I was a child.)

    I haven’t seen this American LWW cartoon in years – not since I was 12-14. And I never really like this movie, to be honest. The American voice acting was not well done, the animation was less effective than a Charlie Brown cartoon (which can do SO MUCH with so little), and the whole endeavor just felt VERY RUSHED. Similar to The Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter) adaptation, except that movie’s individual sequences were well made and the overall film was hugely exciting. Not so with LWW. But Harry Potter Goblet of Fire was also an hour longer than this movie, so maybe that’s not a fair critique. (I saw both films around the same time: 2005-2006.)

    I do agree with 2 things. Aslan’s voice is great, and the music is (overall) very impressive for a low budget movie. In fact, Narnia adaptations have always had good music! Let’s hope that tradition continues…

  10. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    Excellent episode:) I’ve never seen this version so I felt a bit like the people who saw Avengers Endgame without context lol. Judging just from clips I heard… I didn’t care for the Witch’s over the top voice, but maybe it works better in the show?

    Incidentally, would you guys consider making an episode comparing all the soundtracks, end credit songs, etc? I always like when you guys talk about the music of Narnia

    • Larry W. says:

      I think that it would really be interesting to compare the movie music with the BBC Narnia, Focus on the Family, and the 1979 cartoon. There is good in all of these, but I especially like the BBC Narnia’s music by Geoffrey Burgon. I bought both the BBC’s music and some of the movies’ music (the first and third films). It’s a very good experience to listen to the audio. I really like the scores because they appeal to my love for classical works. As for the cartoon, the music seemed okay, but I don’t think I would want to own it. I liked the enchantment of the other Narnia soundtracks much better.

  11. Col Klink says:

    The discussion of which is better, this cartoon or the BBC miniseries, is interesting. I feel like I should say the BBC is the superior. There are way fewer things about that adaptation I find actively bad than I do this one. But on the other hand, the cartoon is sort of interestingly bad and only lasts an hour and half, while the miniseries feels stodgy and boring and takes almost three hours to complete. So I’d rather rewatch the cartoon even though the miniseries is technically better.

  12. Cleander says:

    I love that idea! Of course, they might want to talk a little bit about how each soundtrack was created as well as which ones are better.
    Out of all the Narnia music I’ve heard, I think the first two Walden soundtracks reign supreme. The BBC music just rarely fit and sometimes made things feel even faker and sillier than they already looked. I’ve seen at least one other BBC production that Geoffrey Burgon scored, which sounded much like Narnia but fit this film perfectly because… it was a Charles Dickens adaptation. The audio drama was OK, but- it’s an audio drama. I think Harry Gregson-Williams put the most thought into his music for the films, and you can kind of hear the difference. With a new composer for VDT, the score mostly falls apart into sparkly silliness.

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      I feel like part of the problem is that LWW and PC sounded SO similar (like I’m pretty sure the battle scenes are the same track) making VDT’s sound way different as well as it wad not very great. I think they should’ve made something energetic and wild (like the Pirates of the Caribbean?) or just stuck with the same theme¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  13. Mrs. Beaver says:

    Thanks for the food for thought on why I like the animated version so much, particularly with regards to the pacing and dramatic tension. (I made some comments about the animated version previously when you all were discussing which Aslan was best, as animated Aslan is my personal favorite, in terms of delivery.)

    I had no idea that there were two different sets of voice actors, and have only seen the American version. I could tell that the voice over clips used in the podcast were from the British version, as they were unfamiliar to me. It would have been interesting to compare the two sets, or at least play a few clips side by side. I never had any criticism of the American voice actors.

    Thanks for the podcast!

  14. Coracle says:

    I first watched this on NZ television in 1980, but missed half of it as I had to go out and there were no recording devices back then, We will have had the American voices, I suspect. I was interested but retained very little memory of it. By then I had been reading the books as an adult for 6 years.
    I note that this Lucy set a precedent for lisping on the letter R.

  15. Sam says:

    This was the version of Narnia I knew as a child. We had recorded it on VHS, I’m pretty sure I watched this before I knew the books even existed, and I really liked it. And so when I was old enough to read the books I was ready to learn what more stories of Narnia existed, and so this lead me to read the LWW and MN. So I have very fond memories of this (american version,) but years later I went back to try and watch it again and to my surprise it have not aged well in my opinion. My memories as a child do not include the jittery animation with that very 70s look that animation turned to as budgets for productions started to go down. It’s not just this film, this seemed to be in all animation houses at that time it seemed, even 70s Disney was not very well done, using a lot of rough line work to get around precision in drawing, and even Tom and Jerry cartoons at the time got very plain backgrounds. But I think it is especially bad in the case of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe because of an even lower budget and the fact that this was a “style” at the time. I also don’t like Mr. Tumnus as a red imp like character, in the books he seems much more warm and friendly.
    So Now I like to stick with the Walden films, if I’m not reading the books. I didn’t grow up with the BBC at all and so I don’t really have a very good impression of them.