For decades, CS Lewis' book series The Chronicles Of Narnia has had children bumping their heads into the backs of old cupboards looking for a winter wonderland populated by fauns, centaurs and talking beavers. A movie version of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe feels long overdue and, while it's not seamless, that seductive aura of magic, mystery and menace remains intact. As the cold-hearted White Witch, Tilda Swinton sets the tempo for this bracing adventure.
She is a pristine picture of evil like the spectre of Nazism that forces the Pevensie children out of London and to the sanctuary of a country manor. It's during a game of hide-and-seek that the youngest of the bunch (Georgie Henley) encroaches on the Witch's territory via the back of an enchanted wardrobe. For director Andrew Adamson, it's an awkward business getting there, but once all the children have crossed into Narnia, a mood of childlike wonder takes over.
"A LESSON IN COURAGE"
Lewis' fantasy is beautifully realised in a vast array of colourful characters and majestic scenery. Aslan the Lion - who guides the children in a war against the Witch - is a marvel of CGI and voiced with great warmth and vigour by Liam Neeson. As for the children, Henley is the most charismatic although Skandar Keynes is impressive in his transition from bratty brother to noble warrior. Providing the laughs are Ray Winstone and Dawn French as a pair of bickering beavers, but there's also a sobering edge in visions of death and sacrifice. Adamson handles the balance well for a lesson in courage that melts away all cynicism.