Directed by Andrew Adamson, starring Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent and Dawn French.
Yearning for the enchantment of classic fantasy, or childhood nostalgia, legions of fans have been waiting for '...Narnia'. Director Andrew Adamson's challenge was not only to make a film, but to make the Narnian world exist and fulfil the expectations of so many imaginative people.
Adamson, who was also responsible for the 'Shrek' films, directs this CGI masterpiece with dexterity and has the nous to know that interfering with the original plot would be detrimental. And so, as if spooled from a child's imagination, Disney presents the first of the 'Chronicles of Narnia', true to the book and just as absorbing.
In the land of Narnia, prophecy has it that only the two sons of Adam and the two daughters of Eve can end the wicked White Witch's rule and break her curse of eternal winter. While the four Pevensie siblings try to escape war in the real world, in Narnia they are destined to lead the battle of good against evil.
Peter (Moseley), Susan (Popplewell), Edmund (Keynes) and Lucy (Henley) find themselves en route to the safety of the English countryside during World War Two. Safe in Professor Digory Kirke's (Broadbent) house, they entertain themselves and one day play hide-and-seek. Lucy, the youngest and most imaginative of the Pevensies, hides in an old wardrobe full of fur coats in the spare room. As she steps further back into the wardrobe, she falls into another world, a magical winter wonderland full of mythological creatures.
In awe and wonder, little Lucy befriends a fawn, Mr Tumnus (McAvoy), she sees carrying parcels through the snow. But Mr Tumnus explains that evil is at work in Narnia and escorts her safely back to the portal. Lucy's siblings don't believe that another world could exist, never mind be entered through the wardrobe, but one night Edmund, the younger of the brothers, follows Lucy through the wardrobe. While she visits her new friend, Edmund is seduced by the White Witch (Swinton) with the promise of a room-full of Turkish Delights, if he brings all of his valuable siblings to her.
With word of their arrival, Aslan (Neeson) the Messiah-like lion who previously ruled Narnia, emerges from the depths to prepare for the colossal fight between good and evil. But all the four siblings must unite if Narnia is to fight evil and Edmund must be loyal to his family and ask for forgiveness if goodness has any chance of winning.
The magical land of Narnia looks beautifully real, thanks to Adamson's special effects background, some first class CGI and the collective masterminds who also brought 'The Lord of the Rings' to life. The mythological creatures; the fauns, centaurs, the ravenous wolves and beavers are near life-like.
The characters are endearing. Liam Neeson voices Aslan with a great venerability - the richness, depth and sheer quality of his voice fitting the noble, majestic lion. Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy, is probably the best of the children, as her initial amazement at this intriguing world turns into acceptance that it is real, after which emotion carries her through.
Most importantly, though, the evil seen in Narnia is cold-blooded and 'pure', with an unprecedented Disney evilness casting its dark spell in the form of Swinton's White Witch. Many scenes restate her evilness, as she shockingly slaps little Edmund across the face, turns Mr Tumnus to stone, or has Aslan bound, shaved and killed at the stone table. Swinton becomes evil with just one stiff, petrifying glance, and is the 'best' that evil can be.
CS Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia' is the second most successful book series in the world, having sold over 85m copies. Harry Potter holds pole position, but there could well be a reversal of places if, and surely when, the Narnia series gains momentum on the big screen. 'Prince Caspian' - episode two of seven - is already in pre-production. Somewhere between Narnia and Hogwarts, in a fantastical realm, Harry P and the White Witch must be doing their best to out-do each other.
Just as you imagined, Narnia has been brought to life and it will enchant all those who loved the books and leave children sounding the back of wardrobes in the hope of finding a secret and magical land.