USA Today ranks The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe among top 5 to see in 2005

USA Today ranks five big pictures that are sure to pop your corn in 2005. And when we say big, we mean big. Big budgets, big concepts, big directors, big effects – especially that hairy beast who goes ape in King Kong, and we don’t mean Jack Black. Intentionally omitted is the most anticipated film event of the summer, the opening May 20 of Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, in which George Lucas finally brings his multigenerational space opera to a close. The only suspense is whether this prequel goes out with a bang or a bust.

What’s popping? On a quest for its own Lord of the Rings, Disney launches a potential fantasy franchise with a deluxe treatment based on C.S. Lewis’ stories of a magical kingdom ruled by the messianic lion Aslan.

The film adventure, based on the best-known book in the seven-part series, follows four London siblings during World War II who are sent to stay in the country home of a kindly professor (Jim Broadbent). They discover a hidden passage in a wardrobe that leads to Narnia, a strange world blanketed by snow and inhabited by mythical creatures and talking animals.

The foursome learns that a frozen spell has been cast by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton of Constantine), and it’s their destiny as future kings and queens of Narnia to help Aslan break the wintry curse.

A few more kernels. He’s from New Zealand, where Wardrobe was shot. He has achieved monstrous box office success. And he knows his way around digital effects. No, not Peter Jackson of Rings fame, but close: Andrew Adamson, the director behind both Shrek films. Like Jackson, he is an avid fan of his source.

“One of the things I loved about the books is that the children are so empowered,” Adamson says. “In Narnia, they are treated as kings and queens. They’re not children anymore.” Unlike the wordy Rings trilogy, Lewis leaves more to the imagination. “The challenge for me is to live up to my memory of the books as well as everyone else’s,” says Adamson, who first read the collection at age 8 in just 10 days.

Circumstances are often serious, but there’s much spirited fun to be had in the children’s encounters, especially with the homespun heroics of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (the voices of Ray Winstone and Dawn French).

Lewis didn’t write his tales only to entertain, however. They also work as Christian allegories. Though the movie won’t downplay the religious themes, neither will it trumpet them. “We’re setting out to tell a good story,” producer Mark Johnson says. “The allegory is there if you look for it. But it’s also in The Matrix, too.”

Bonus treat. No Beatrix Potter whimsy. All the digital animals, especially Aslan (voiced by Brian Cox of Troy), look and act like real-life counterparts.

Yum factor. Johnson produced the enchanting 1995 family film A Little Princess. Wardrobe aspires to the same exquisite quality.

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