SAN DIEGO — When last we saw the Pevensie children, they had resurrected Aslan, destroyed the White Witch, become kings and queens of Narnia and returned through the wardrobe to the normal world. For some, that's where the story ended — but to the keepers of the franchise flame, the work has just begun.
"Just like 'The Lord of the Rings,' this is a great piece of British literature that we all loved as children, and there was a real concern that a group of filmmakers like us may do damage to something so sacred," explained Richard Taylor, the visual effects artist behind the eye-popping creatures, weapons and visuals of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." "It was so important that they saw in the first film that we're not."
Well, when a movie earns mostly positive reviews, $750 million worldwide and the title of the top-selling DVD of the year, it can be assumed that the filmmakers are doing something right. With that in mind, Taylor, director Andrew Adamson and the rest of their team stormed Comic-Con and made the geeks erupt with delight by showing them early footage and animatronic props from the second installment, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (see "Comic-Con '07: Big News On 'Iron Man,' 'Watchmen,' 'Star Trek,' 'Spidey 4' Amid Carnival Atmosphere").
"Comic-Con has been really lovely this year, because the first time we were here, they were anticipating what 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' could be, but now they know," Taylor said of "Prince Caspian," which is currently filming in Prague for a May release (see " 'Narnia' Sequel Keeps Cast And Director, Shoots For 2007 Release"). "Andrew's done a beautiful job, the crew delivered a beautiful film, and so going into 'Caspian,' the [fans are] along for a great ride."
But as those who've read C.S. Lewis' classic children's tales know, "Caspian" will have the Pevensie kids returning to a very different fantasy kingdom. "The children have gone back to Narnia 1,300 years later," Taylor explained of the otherworldly timeline, which registers as barely a year to humans. "They left a beautiful world that they thought they had established and brought a quality to, and now they turn up again and it's been destroyed: The animals have become feral; many of them have lost the ability to talk, and humankind is suppressing them. [New villain] Miraz and the kingdom of the Telmar have destroyed everything the children left.
"The audience is going to be wonderfully surprised by how much larger and more epic this is going to be," Taylor promised, "[because the story] requires a massive, epic [nature] to bring their quality back into this world. Andrew is in turn using huge architectural structures, massive castles, sweeping landscapes and huge armies to generate those images."
During the Comic-Con panel, Taylor (and Adamson from the set, via satellite) unveiled some action-packed pre-vis footage that included griffins, dwarves and a first glimpse at the would-be Yoda that many expect to be the second flick's breakout character.
"I think he might be up there with Puss in Boots out of 'Shrek,' " laughed Taylor, discussing the potential impending popularity of a tough-guy mouse named Reepicheep. "He will be brilliant, and I'm sure the audience will embrace the good humor of him.
"Reepicheep is one of the most famous fantasy characters in Western literature," he added. "This is a crazy little mouse who stands about a foot tall and runs around with a sword called a rapier. It's a fencing foil, the sort of thing Zorro might fight with, and he does some serious damage."
The man responsible for creating the rapier-wielding rodent isn't kidding: Audiences cheered test footage showing Reepicheep spoofing "Mission: Impossible," cracking wise and cracking skulls. "I can't wait to see him onscreen," Taylor beamed. "He's filled with incredible bravado, to the point of madness. He's almost suicidal."
Such suicidal tendencies might also be fueling the "Narnia" franchise these days: Disney has announced ambitious plans to release a new flick every May for the next six years. It's a decision undoubtedly fueled by the success of the Harry Potter films, but Taylor said that keeping such a schedule with this series raises some unique challenges.
" 'Harry Potter' is very different; the literature is very complementary of the filmmaking process, because in the literature, the children grow older one year at a time, and that makes for good cinema," he observed. "The problem with these films is the children don't grow that much older back in the real world, in war-torn Britain, so trying to stay ahead of the maturing of the real actors is a challenge for the filmmakers. [Our progression will] rely so heavily on the acting skills of those four actors. ... [They'll need] to weave a very believable feeling that these children are still sitting at the maturity level of the previous films."
Nevertheless, the "Narnia" filmmakers are resisting temptations to recast the Pevensie children. "After 'Prince Caspian,' we are going to be so invested in these characters. ... It's like recasting Gandalf or Frodo [in 'Lord of the Rings']," Taylor explained, adding that the problem will soon be alleviated in the cases of Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell). "Remember that the two older children don't carry on from ['Caspian'] into '[The Voyage of] the Dawn Treader,' but of course the two younger children do" (see " 'Chronicles Of Narnia' Series Nabs Michael Apted To Direct Third Flick").
The future "Narnia" flicks are expected to veer off from the books' chronological timeline, filming "The Horse and His Boy" and "The Magician's Nephew" after "Dawn Treader" and "The Silver Chair," and Taylor intends to stick around long enough to help realize his own favorite moment from Lewis' series.
"The one book that I love, 'The Horse and His Boy,' I'm not sure that is an easy story to be brought to the screen," he grinned. "That relationship between the horse and the boy is so special in literature; it's one I would love to see."
In the meantime, he's been busy working on the one moment from "Caspian" that should once again make fans nutty for "Narnia." "The one scene I want to see, along with the audience, is the storming of Miraz's castle," he said of the action sequence, giving us a few hints about where Adamson and his crew are going with it.
"It's first of all done as a piece of espionage, but then unfortunately things go terribly wrong. It's going to be a heart-wrenching moment where these characters that you've come to really respect and love through the development of the first film and into the second film have been put in terrible peril," he grimaced. "I think it's going to be some great cinema."
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