Andrew Adamson's sterling version of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the perdurable C.S. Lewis classic of children's fantasy, is well told, handsome, stirring and loads of fun. Taken at face value, the film decodes into a kind of dashing view of colonialism for the prepubescent set, an empire-and-faith fable set in a fantasy world whose relation to the real one will be, for adults, its most fascinating element. For kids, the pleasure will be in some of the best special effects of the year. And for both, the overarching endearment will be a narrative, which speeds through its two-hour-plus running time.
When Lucy Pevensie (adorable Georgie Henley) finds refuge in the big box on the upper floor of an ornate mansion where she and her three siblings are waiting out the Blitz, she finds herself suddenly in Narnia (in whose syllables may be heard a faint echo of "Britannia"). No explanation given, no explanation needed. Lucy wanders about, running into the faun Mr. Tumnus (part James McAvoy, part computer illustration) and learning it's eternally snowy in Narnia because the White Witch Jadis (the fabulous Tilda Swinton) has taken over, declared eternal winter and outlawed Christmas.
Director Adamson came up through special-effects discipline, and in "Narnia" he has brilliantly supervised the nearly impossible: supple, expressive animal faces. And the human performers are not far behind the animated ones. Of note, the movie rides its PG rating right to the very edge; its evocation of animal death and battlefield mayhem and jeopardy to children is extremely powerful, and some kids may find it disturbing. Parents should consider carefully before taking their younger children.
-- Stephen Hunter