The “Harry Potter” franchise by J.K. Rowling is undeniably the children’s (or young adult) series least likely ever to need any kind of sustained marketing campaign to get fans to flock to the theater. One could also argue that when the first book of the “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis came out on the big screen, it likely had quite a few fans (of all ages) ready to see the film regardless. However, the movie got an unexpected boost of publicity when a Saturday Night Live rap sketch by Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg went viral. While the sketch didn’t get that much attention on TV, it took off after it appeared online, being responsible for such proudly nerdy lines as, “Mr. Pibb and Red Vines equal crazy delicious!” (T-shirts were even sold.) The film itself does a fantastic job of capturing the magic of the first Narnia book, but there is a problem with the series that “Harry” never had to worry about. The one iron-clad rule of Narnia is that each child can only go there a couple of times – otherwise puberty hits and disqualifies you. The need to frequently cast new main character roles is perhaps a reason why attempts to keep the franchise going have foundered.
But though the later volumes remain in movie limbo, the first book is still masterfully brought to life. Starring four quasi-British orphans (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) who are sent to the countryside during the Blitz in World War 2. While their father is fighting in the trenches, the four are allowed to roam around the manor unsupervised, while the owner (an absent-minded professor) does whatever he does in his study and the housekeeper leads public tours. One day early on, the youngest (Georgie) takes refuge in a wardrobe while playing hide-and-seek with her siblings. Oddly there does not appear to be any dead end; instead she emerges in a snow-covered land, where she soon runs into a talking faun (James McAvoy). Yes folks, this is Narnia, but soon Georgie learns all is not idyllic – even with talking animals and cozy tea parties, it’s ruled by an evil witch (Tilda Swinton) who is such a spoilsport that she keeps it eternally winter. Also, Tilda is keen on meeting a “Son of Adam” or “Daughter of Eve,” (i.e. a human child) for no doubt nefarious reasons. Though James tries to lure Georgie to sleep, his conscience won’t quite let him, and he winds up helping her escape back through the wardrobe.
Surprisingly, Georgie’s sibs are skeptical of her claims, particularly since no time has passed in their world and they also can’t get back to Narnia when they try. However, the next time, Skandar tries and makes it in, where he meets Tilda herself, who with the help of Turkish Delight, convinces him to lure his siblings to her. The third time, all four make it into Narnia where they’re plunged (literally and otherwise) into a struggle between good (Aslan, a talking lion and Christ figure voiced by Liam Neeson) and evil (Tilda). This involves rescuing James and the other Narnians who have been turned into stone by Tilda at her palace, congregating in preparation to fight the bad guys, and a sacrifice by Liam in order that winter will end and spring will come. The next two books (“Prince Caspian” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”) were subsequently made into movies, but as far as I know, the fourth (with an entirely new cast) has yet to appear. If only C.S. Lewis had set the series in a magical boarding school instead – but since he loathed his own time there, we get to have Narnia (equally magical in my view as Hogwarts) instead.