“All war movies are antiwar movies,” opined Francis Ford Coppola, “in that they describe horrible incidents and the most profound thing of all, to lose a young person.” This truism has ended with the latest film installment of the Narnia Chronicles. Not only is Prince Caspian a war movie that is not antiwar, it is war movie targeted to young people. And to this I say: It’s about time Hollywood made a war movie for children.
As Narnia author C.S. Lewis once claimed, “The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.” This is why there needs to be more war movies for children. War movies are metaphors, and in the proper context, can be powerful literary tools for teaching children the fundamentals of moral conduct. At its best, Caspian succeeds in presenting a vision of how people–even at a young age–must reckon with a world infected by violence and evil.
Because we have grown accustomed to viewing the Chronicles of Narnia as safe books for Christian children, we often overlook how radical a moral universe they present.
For instance, near the beginning of Caspian, four schoolchildren living in WWII-era England leave the realm of air-raid sirens and sandbagged lined subway platforms for the war torn landscape of Narnia. The Pevensie siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy, are leaving a country where they were helpless children and returning to a kingdom where they once ruled as kings and queens.
On children’s television channels like Nickelodeon and Disney, precocious tweeners and young teens are often at the center of the action while parents and other adults are at the periphery. By contrast, in the world of Narnia, human adults are either the enemy of the children or are completely absent. This is a radical departure for modern children. Not only can young moviegoers not relate to a world with a monarchial hierarchy, they can’t relate to a world without helicopter parents.
The Pevensie children, however, are not alone in the Narnian universe. They are surrounded by various creatures, from satyrs to talking badgers. Yet as “Sons of Adam” and “Daughters of Eve” they have dominion and authority over all other beings. With one exception: Aslan.
In Narnia, Aslan is God. As explained in The Magician’s Nephew, the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the land of Narnia was literally sung into existence by Aslan. The noble lion is the creator, sustainer, and sovereign over all that exists in the land.
The “Aslan as Christ-figure” is readily apparent in Wardrobe. Even the most secular audience member can figure out what the death and resurrection of Aslan is supposed to represent. However, in Caspian the allusion is more subtle, though possibly even more profound.
It’s exasperating, though not surprising, that so many Christians who have seen the movie complain that Aslan is not given enough screen time. They seem not to get the point that Aslan is in every frame of the film.
Everything in Narnia was created and is sustained by the breath of Aslan. Evidence of Aslan is seen in the trees, the sun, the woodland creatures, and in everything that exist. His presence is everywhere. How then can Christians miss the point that Caspian is about faith, about “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”?
Perhaps the problem is that they are unable to make the shift from readers to moviegoers; they are too attached to the book. While Wardrobe was a rather literal book-to-film translation, Caspian is a loose adaptation. This is a wholly good and necessary change, for the book, one of the weaker Narnia tales, is structurally flawed and narratively flabby.
To compensate, the movie includes a variety of new elements; some that deepen the story (an extended siege on a castle) and others that serve as minor diversions (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it romance). Overall, though, the liberties taken are what transform the talky, walking-through-the-woods book into an action packed honest-to-goodness war movie.
For this is indeed a war movie and the war scenes are spectacular. Caspian is the first children’s movie that has a body count comparable to Braveheart. The images of battle are brutal, poignant, sad, and yet pleasantly gore-free. Seeing children in combat should be disconcerting, though I found it refreshing. I especially appreciated how Queen Susan was allowed to tap into her inner Xena in order to fight valiantly alongside the boys, bears, and badgers. (And no, I do not think woman should serve in combat. Then again, I’m opposed to sending Dryads, Maenads, and talking squirrels into combat situations too.)
The biggest weakness in the film is the titular character – Prince Caspian. The character, tediously dull in the book, is given far too much screen time. While Ben Barnes, the young actor who plays Prince Caspian, was obviously selected as eye-candy for the Hannah Montana crowd, the writers could have done more than make him a pint-sized Inigo Montoya (complete with the faux- Castilian accent!).
Also, every moment spent on the crowd-pleasing CGI-characters (e.g., the cute but overrated Reepicheep) was time when the screen wasn’t filled with the vastly more interesting Pevensie children. The movie should have given them even more space to mature. High King Peter and Queen Susan were only allowed to shine in the fight scenes, though Queen Lucy–my favorite character–was magnificent in just about every scene.
Overall, I loved the movie and thought it was superior to both the book and to the film version of Wardrobe. But your own reaction is likely to be markedly different, particularly if you are a mother.
Moms simply won’t be able to appreciate seeing a teen boy getting thrashed in single-combat against a man twice his age. They won’t cheer heartily at seeing a teen girl expertly dehorse a half-dozen soldiers with a bow and arrow. Nor will they gasp with delight upon seeing a six-year old draw a dagger when faced with an opposing army.
This ain’t no Veggie Tales; this a Dad’s movie. So kids, put down the Wii controller, grab Pops and drag him off to see Prince Caspian, the greatest war movie ever made for children.