CS Lewis's timeless fantasy transports four children from wartime London into the mystical land of Narnia. Once there, they seek the great lion Aslan to fulfil a prophecy and end the wintry reign of the wicked White Witch. Shrek director Andrew Adamson wisely tones down the book's religious allusions but stays faithful to the story to create a good, old-fashioned family adventure. Won an Oscar for best make up.
As an adaptation of a much-loved saga of mythical realms and fabulous beasts, largely filmed in New Zealand by a New Zealander, this first Narnian chronicle was always going to invite comparisons to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings juggernaut.
But where Middle Earth was shrouded in gloom, Adamson's Narnia is a more welcoming place; a winter wonderland that children would love to explore, White Witch or no.
The tale begins in dark times as the Pevensie children - Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter - are evacuated from blitzed London to the country mansion of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent).
During a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy (well-cast debutant Henley) stumbles into a room furnished only with a huge wardrobe, at the back of which she finds... a snowbound forest. And has tea with a faun called Tumnus (James McAvoy).
Of course, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) pooh-poohs her story until he follows her and is lured into doing the bidding of wily white witch Jadis (the spikily splendid Swinton). If he brings her his siblings, he'll get as much Turkish delight as he can eat. Now that's sweet-talk.
When the Pevensies arrive en masse, Tumnus is gone but a kindly Cockney beaver (voiced by Ray Winstone) tells them that only they can fulfil a prophecy to restore peace to Narnia by joining the righteous forces of the noble lion Aslan.
But Edmund's treachery sets Jadis and her wolves on a relentless hunt to catch Peter, Susan and Lucy before they reach Aslan's army.
Much has been made of the book's Christian overtones, but while the movie retains the story's core elements it goes easy on the preaching to provide well-intentioned and wholesome entertainment. You know, for kids?
Admittedly, the self-sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Aslan is laid on a bit thick and 'Jadis' does sound like 'Judas'. But it's possible to overlook the biblical themes to enjoy a basic tale of good-versus-evil.
The pacing is brisk and the denizens of Narnia are nicely rendered (though the green-screen work leaves something to be desired), from the earthly beavers and wolves to minotaurs, griffons, centaurs and cyclops(es?).
Grown-ups will appreciate it as a cynicism-free breath of nostalgia... but they may have to keep an eye on the kids when they next visit MFI's bedroom department.