December 15, 2005


 Narnia. For the young at heart, not young kids Powerful and beautiful movie is best for 10 and up.

Don’t take young children to see “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” unless they’re inured by heavy television watching to violence and cruelty. My opinion? The movie is for children 10 and up. Younger children should stick to the books.

Not that the brutality of the movie is literally depicted-on the contrary, nary a drop of blood is on view. The camera cuts away just before every lethal blow. But the tale, originally told by C.S. Lewis in his book series, concerns the battle between life and death, and the struggle between the forces of the evil White Witch and Aslan’s army is thunderous and terrifying. My daughter, Ilse Miller, 13, thought the battle went on too long. She thought the movie was good, but not great.

For those of you unfamiliar with the books, the plot involves four British children during World War II. With London under siege, their mother sends them off on a train to seek sanctuary in the country-a wrenching scene in itself. Having arrived at the estate of a reclusive professor and his draconian housekeeper, the children soon discover a large, abandoned wardrobe in an unused room, which becomes a threshold to the land of Narnia, where the inhabitants have been imprisoned in an unending winter for the past 100 years. The resident fauns, talking beavers, centaurs and otherworldly creatures suffer at the bloodless hands of the evil White Witch, waiting for the return of Aslan, a powerful lion that will bring warmth back to the kingdom.

If this sounds like children’s fare to you, be advised that Tilda Swinton, as the White Witch, makes the most frightening evil female ever portrayed in an adventure epic, with the serpentine hiss and hypnotizing stare of an albino snake. Whether or not your children are aware of the religious metaphor intended by Lewis, the scene in which the beloved Aslan lets himself be taken by the horrible, repulsive minions of the White Witch, then humiliated and ritually murdered, is profoundly moving. But all comes out right in the end, and older children will appreciate the sweeping, swashbuckling adventure of this gorgeously rendered tale. Kristin Gehring

Desperately seeking Magna Tiles. Toy test update

We have to keep saying it. The top pick of Chicago Parent’s fourth annual totally unscientific toy test in the December issue is: Magna Tiles. And we keep hearing from our readers that it’s hard to find.

The LaGrange-based manufacturer, Valtech Co., has posted on its Web site,, the names of the stores that carry the toy. Click on “retailers.”

Here’s what we wrote in our story about Magna-Tiles: “The geometrically-shaped magnetic tiles are great for preschoolers and just as engaging for older kids, even much older kids (a college-age Chicago Parent intern couldn’t stop playing with the set we had in the office). This toy has long been a staple for schools such as Pilgrim Community Nursery School in Oak Park. And Kristin Larsen, former kindergarten teacher at McCarty Elementary School in Aurora, says, ‘There’s such an unlimited use for them. They can turn them into whatever they want.’  For our other picks, see out toy test package of stories. Susy Schultz

 Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic Lights. 4–8:30 p.m. Dec. 17–18, Dec. 26 – Jan.1. $8, $4 seniors, kids 3–11, free kids 2 and under. 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield. (708) 485-2263,

I was skeptical at first about Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic. I mean, who goes to the zoo in the winter? Even penguins shrug at such a notion, right? But this isn’t just a zoo during the holiday season. It’s a winter wonderland. When the kids weren’t in awe of the polar bears, monkeys or tigers, they were mesmerized by the gazillion holiday lights that fill the place and make Clark Griswold’s house look about as bright as a nightlight. It’s really captivating.

Now, imagine it with the snow falling furiously, as it did the night we went. Santa was there. His reindeer grazed out back. There’s even a talking Christmas tree. The kids, as I said, were in awe. Mom and dad? A little annoyed when the stroller turned into a sleigh ride because of the unplowed walkways. Brad Spencer 

 Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights. 5–9 p.m. Dec. 16 - Jan. 1, no lights Dec. 24 and 25. Free. 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago. (312) 742-2000,

Each year we try to pick the warmest night to attend Lincoln Park Zoo's ZooLights holiday festival. It’s rather predictable, but my kids like the ZooLights standards: the laser light show, carousel, train rides, live ice carving, crafts and temporary tattoos. The event is free, which is always a plus; food and snacks are extra. Monica Ginsburg


 “A Marvelous Party: The Noël Coward Celebration”  Call or check Web site for times and ticket prices, ages 10 and up. Through Jan. 8. Northlight Theater, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. (847) 673-6300,

No child in tow here, but sitting in the theater, I realized: This is a perfect show for a kid-and-grandparent evening. And if you are good, you, dear parent, can join in as well. OK, you may have to drag them—because there is no plot here, only words and music, which may be off putting. But Noël Coward’s sophisticated work is not above kids, who can enjoy the humor, the energy, the dancing and the great way the talented actors enunciate. Yes, the lyrics flirt with off-color targets, but there is no ribald language, only suggestion. Things in this play are a cut way above many PG movies. I would highly recommend this as an intergenerational family evening at the theater. Susy Schultz

Kids Eat Chicago

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