It’s been a close match-up between the book and Disney film, but every version has scored at least one point. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the final categories and discover which version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is truly the best.
This is an unfair category to judge right? A book doesn’t have special effects, a score, or visual storytelling. Sure, but books have descriptions and writing styles that are really hard for a movie to adapt barring a constant narrator. All four of these versions have their unique flavor and feel, and they all display it very differently.
I’ve talked about the bad costuming in the BBC version, but let’s be honest here. Almost everything technical in the BBC versions is laughably bad. There are exceptions like the aforementioned Aslan puppet and the opening theme which is perfectly serviceable (best you’re gonna get from me, sorry). For the things that are wrong, I don’t want to be here all day, so it’s time for the speed round.
- Maugrim is played by a man in a wolf costume but switches to an actual wolf when he runs
- The battle looks like it has 12 people fighting in it
- The battle has a cameo by Sonny The Cuckoo
- They’re not even trying with the witch’s dwarf’s fake beard
- With the exception of the Queen’s castle, these sets look like someone decorated their backyard in five minutes.
NO! I didn’t even get to mention the scene that is reminiscent of the coat hanger scene from Birdemic. I’m still putting this up there.
I feel bad for insulting the groundbreaking special effects of Birdemic by lowering it to BBC Narnia standards. I just can’t believe someone let this go. Let’s move on to the cartoon.
The animation is terrible. It’s cheap, shoddy, the snow doesn’t always move in the background, and it really takes you out of it. At first. It doesn’t get better, but for one reason or another, after a while it starts to absorb you. I give a lot of credit to the music, which is really nice. Okay, it’s not John Williams, but for a cheap TV cartoon it’s far above average.
The Disney film is a big budget, effects-laden production a la Lord of the Rings. There’s a green screen or two that is evident, but for the most part, the effects really work, especially the talking animals. Harry Gregson William’s score is sweeping and pleasant, but it sounds very similar at times to Disney’s The Santa Clause.
C.S. Lewis applies a very unique writing style to the book, in that he often writes these humorous asides that one might add when telling a story in person. In some works, it would fall apart, but this is such a fantastical but simple story that it works. It’s not a huge epic like Lord of the Rings, but a small story about children out of their element. Here’s one of my favorites from when the children first meet the beavers:
“It’s all right,” he was shouting. “Come out, Mrs Beaver. Come out, Sons and Daughters of Adam. It’s all right! It isn’t Her!” This was bad grammar of course, but that is how beavers talk when they are excited; I mean, in Narnia – in our world they usually don’t talk at all.
I have grown up with this story in various versions, but when I read that portion in preparation for this, I laughed out loud. Lewis has a great way of planning and writing polished asides that sound like they’re off-the-cuff. It feels like a story out of oral tradition and it works. I give the point to the book.
BEST STORY (2 POINTS)
Well it comes down to this. It’s sort of tough to judge the story, because they all do tell the same one with very few changes. Sure, Father Christmas is taken out of the cartoon, but the weapons he gives are still given to the children. It comes down more to the pacing.
The book is a brisk tale, moving the story along while still allowing us to enjoy the characters. The BBC version is painfully slow, almost three hours long, meaning characters often speak their lines slowly simply to make it longer. For some reason, we don’t even meet Aslan until nearly two hours in, meaning this version is both dragged out and rushed.
The cartoon tells the story wonderfully, containing it all to 90 minutes. We don’t see too much of the battle, but we don’t see it in the book either. I can’t knock it for telling the story similarly to the source material. It sadly doesn’t give a lot of time to character development, but we get all the major points. Ample time is spent where needed, and nothing drags.
The Disney film tells the whole story while expanding certain parts. We see the blitz of London in the beginning, and we immediately see the conflict between Peter and Edmund. We see more of the Professor’s house, which isn’t necessary I guess, but it definitely shows the characters having fun in our world too. The biggest expansion is the final battle scene, which really works well, because we see how dedicated everyone is to the Narnian cause. Edmund redeems himself by confronting the White Witch, and we finally get to see Susan do something in battle by killing the Witch’s dwarf (perhaps a peace offering for the sexist Santa of the book). Aslan’s defeat of the Witch is a bit anticlimactic, but that works. It’s this battle where everyone’s outnumbered, but then he just comes back and ends it, because he’s God. A Deus ex Machina doesn’t work in all stories, but it does here. One of my favorite additions is Peter’s constant conflict with Maugrim, greatly helped by Michael Madsen’s performance. It really makes his death scene more satisfying. Like I said, I was raised on this book, but I do believe the Disney film tells the story the best.
BEST OVERALL VERSION
At the end of the day, the Disney film takes a great book and makes an incredibly entertaining film out of it. It is a great lesson in an adaptation done right. Sure, it helps that the source material is short, but everything just works.
The book and Disney film both come highly recommended, and to be honest it really doesn’t matter which order you enjoy them in. You’ll find nice little surprises either way. The cartoon works for young children, but if you’re interested, you will probably find some things you enjoy. I can’t recommend the BBC version, because the whole thing feels like it was a chore to make, and it’s quite a chore to watch too. There are a few things that work, but it’s not enough to justify a three hour watch.
Next, we’ll dive into Prince Caspian and see if the Disney series continues their streak.