June 29th, 2008 10:17 EST
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Review
Okay, I admit it. I cried buckets when Aslan died, but can I point out that I was seven years old at the time? Our school had a thorough exposure to "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," but curiously not to any of the other Narnia stories, so "Prince Caspian" was a complete revelation.
The second of Disney`s adaptations of C.S. Lewis` beloved books in "The Narnia Chronicles" series, Caspian follows the misadventures of dashing Prince of the title.
Heir to a throne well and truly gripped by his murderous Uncle, (who bumped off his father in classic Hamlet style, some years ago), Caspian is supposedly due to come into his inheritance... when his Uncle and Aunt have a baby....
Needles to say Caspian is now a rather embarrassing inconvenience, to an Uncle who wants the throne for his own son. Not to split heirs (sorry!) he is smuggled out of the fortress by his tutor, and escapes his pursuers into the looming haunted forests of Narnia, where, unhorsed, and frightened witless by some nasty looking dwarfs, he blows his enchanted horn.
This belonged to Queen Susan in the ancient past, and was said to be able to summon the kings of old to protect Narnia at times of strife. And when it is sounded, on the platform of the Strand Tube Station in war-torn 1940`s London, the four Pevensie children suddenly realise that they are going to be somewhat late for tea....
Although a little too dark for smaller children, "Prince Caspian" is a solid family film and a thoroughly good adventure. I am confident that my own two year old will grow to love it in a couple of years time, but I would be uneasy about an under-five year old watching the sequence where a truly sinister rangy werewolf, and a half-bird witch, try to raise the vanquished Ice-Queen. More than a passing reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, I would say, from an author using Christian references through fantasy fiction, seen here in Peter and Caspian`s temptation to bring her back.
The film is grittier and darker than the previous outing, and actually tackles the issues of ethnic cleansing, and subjugation by an expansionist foreign power. You may remember that the four Pevensie children grew up in Narnia, during "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", and became the rulers of that enchanted land. Well, it turns out that almost the minute that they accidentally returned to our world through the wardrobe, (thereby returning to childhood, and becoming sealed in our reality again) Narnia was over-ran and annexed by a vicious foreign power. The Telmarines, a dynasty descended from pirates who found their way into the Narnian Universe, invaded.
At the time when this was written, of course, Britain was engaged in its darker days of fighting the Second World War. The Blitz raged, and the Nazi War machine was poised across the very narrow English Channel. Of course, this family film couldn`t explore the crimes of Hitler and the final solution, so a more historic metaphor was chosen, in the steel-clad shape of the Spanish Conquistadors.
The Telmarines are dressed in thoroughly Spanish Uniform, with the characteristic helmets, breastplates and armour, whose faceplates have snarling bearded and mustachioed Conquistador faces. They make a thoroughly credible threat, marching in solid columns against the brave but undisciplined Narnian animals and mythic creatures, in an army column after column long, and towing huge siege engines. Marching into Narnia, it echoes the encroaching invasion of the Conquistadors into the newly discovered Americas, and we all know what that meant for the native peoples.
The Narnians are thought to be extinct, so heavy has been their persecution by the Telmarines. It comes as a nasty shock to the unhorsed Caspian when two dwarfs appear from within the roots of a tree (in a scene straight out of a book by the Brothers Grimm) and come at him with a knife. But it takes this displaced Prince, a decent man born into a savage tangle of politics, to unite the Narnians.
And Telmarine politics is vicious indeed. Caspian`s Uncle, King Miraz, is truly an equivalent of Hamlets Uncle Claudius, and Sergio Castellitto (who portrays him with force and belligerent cunning) has said that this was his source of inspiration. There are shades of Richard the Third and Machiavelli about the character, too, as he sets up the events to create a Narnian insurrection, in order to get himself legitimised as king! Perhaps it could be said that their family owes something to the Borgia`s, and their militaristic approach also echoes Ferdinand and Isabella. Miraz is a ruthless soldier, surrounded by other ruthless soldiers, and it is no surprise that he has his own Iago. Not exactly what you would expect to find, in what some may ignorantly dismiss, as a movie about talking Badgers and Fauns!
The children who oppose this formidable foe are well cast. Although modern youths playing English teenagers from the 1940`s, there is little to criticise in their performances. A kind of Medieval Famous Five, who have foresworn the picnics and ginger beer, they are endearingly English and very nicely observed. Unafraid to punch above their weights, they join forces with Caspian and are every bit as brave as their parents in our dimension, when fighting an overwhelming enemy with their backs against the wall.
But although the film has these very dark themes of oppression and invasion, it is filled with delightful humour, and is not afraid to be slightly mocking. When the eldest Pervensie introduces himself to Trumpkin the Dwarf, as "High King Peter, the Magnificent," it truly is delightfully funny, and William Moseley as Peter pitches it just right.
Liam Neeson, providing a beautifully Patrician voice for the Royal Aslan, has less of a hands-on approach, and leaves the young princes and princesses to make their own mistakes. There is a solid message here about faith, and perhaps in not being so foolish as to question your God, if you are expecting a physical response.
Caspian , (played by Ben Barnes) is dashing and naÃ¯ve, in a way which is not foolish, and he makes a solid team member alongside the four previous Narnian children, William Moseley, (as Peter), Anna Popplewell (as Susan), Skandar Keynes (as Edmund), and the delightful Georgina Henley (as Lucy). Clean cut and idealistic, they are a group alongside whom you will be happy to let you children share a cinematic adventure.
Special mention should go to Eddie Izzard`s fantastic vocal performance as Reepicheep the swashbuckling mouse, and cinematic treasure Warwick Davies. So frequently cast as loveable characters, it was real novelty to see him as the Black Dwarf Nikabrik. For the most part he is marvelously sardonic, and (during the sequence raising the Ice Queen) actually downright sinister. Might be a bit of a shock for fans of his avuncular Professor Flitwick.
An escapist treat and worth it alone for the sight of Aslan and Lucy alone confronting an entire army on the bridge, your kids should love it.