Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1979, Bill Melendez)

I've previously posted rambling reminiscences about what a bigger deal TV shows and movies used to be back in the days before recordable media and on-demand streaming video made entertainment ubiquitous and disposable.

Well gather round, kids, and prepare to roll your eyes again as I tell you of a time long, long ago when cartoons and animation just weren't to be found in those magic evening hours known as prime-time, but were instead largely relegated to a few skimpy hours in the morning and after school.

A rare and recurring exception was during the big holidays, when animated specials like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or How the Grinch Stole Christmas would be broadcast in the meaty television viewing hours between 7:00 and 9:00 PM. There was an accompanying excitement to these presentations... these special occasions when cartoons were allowed to get dressed up for a big night on the town.

So even though the original broadcast of the animated adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe did not coincide with any holiday, there was a similar sense of excitement when I watched it in two parts, spread across two nights, back in April of 1979.

Directed by long-time Peanuts animator Bill Melendez (he also directed the Christmas special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus), The Lion... is a reverent and engaging version of the Narnia chapter that would go on to spawn a big-budget blockbuster some 25 years later.

Don't be mislead by the cutish character designs. This adaptation takes its story seriously, as it should. No attempt is made to dumb-down the tone, and at no point do any of the characters break out into song. Aside from perhaps the Rankin Bass adaptation of The Hobbit, this was probably the most serious piece of animation I'd seen by this time.

I was enthralled by scenes of the evil Queen, whose minions include all manner of monster.

Some scenes challenged the expectations I'd held as to the degree of evil that was allowable in an animated film. Scenes like this, in which the Queen has tied young Edmund to a tree and intends to sacrifice him with a knife.

The finale, in which a gleefully vicious mob of monsters ritually kills the noble lion Aslan, is powerful, and perhaps even more effective than the live-action Disney version.

Buy The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on DVD here.
UPDATE: This cartoon landed on my list of Top-10 tearjerkers...


Propagatrix said...

I loved this as a child, and I will definitely be snapping up the DVD. Something about the way the White Witch said "Turkish Delight" has always given me goosebumps.

Brother Bill said...

She had the same affect on me---even though I had no idea what "turkish delight" was at the time.

Mr Bloody Mojo said...

I must of watched this cartoon version 1000 times as a kid. Speaking of Turkish delight, I had no idea what it was then either. I always wanted to try it though, it wasn't until much later that I did get to try it... I was maybe in my early 20s... I thought it was horrible horrible stuff, and it's rare I meet a candy I don't like.

GreenGenes71 said...

The music from this animation when they are chasing the White Stag and again at the end was very special and memorable and I always wished that the Disney adaptation would have kept it. Sadly, the credits don't offer any information about it.

Peter Z. said...

GreenGenes71.... the composer is Michael J. Lewis and there is a CD release of the score, albeit in very limited quantities. Seek and ye shall find!

GreenGenes71 said...

Thanks Peter Z.!!

Peter Z. said...

No problem! It's definitely one of my favorite scores of all time. Check out Angela Morley's excellent score for 1978's Watership Down as well.

Sean Clothier said...

I always preferred the American voice version. Beth Porter as the White Witch is over the top, but that is what I expect from Jadis anyway! She almost skirts on buffoonery, but when you get to the Stone Table, she is very menacing indeed!