This is the one, after The Lord of the Rings, that, if you're any kind of proper geek at all, you've been looking forward to all year with a mixture of glee and dread. So it is such a relief and a joy to report that it's hard to imagine how much more right director Andrew Adamson and his four FX houses and his perfectly perfect cast could have gotten The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis' classic fantasy -- beloved by children, fantasy nerds, and Christians who misunderstand that the allegorical stuff of Lewis' book far predates Christianity -- is here warm, sweet, funny, scary, magnificent, gorgeous, expansive, and intimate, but mostly completely and utterly charming. And I mean Charming with a capital C, charming like the movie invented the concept and wants to sweep us up in its own enchantment. I'd hate to imagine anyone so hard of heart and cold of soul as to be untransported by this lovely film.
It's in all the tiny details, the rock-solid reality of even the most impossible things in this magical land of Narnia that make you not just believe but feel its solidity and substance. Adamson found a little treasure in then eight-year-old Georgie Henley to play Lucy Pevensie, youngest of the four Pevensie siblings. The authenticity of Narnia is established from the very first moment Lucy, hiding from her brother in a wardrobe, mysteriously stumbles out the back of the closet and into this fantasy realm. The look on her face -- of wonder, of delight, of awe -- as she suddenly finds herself in a snowy wood is all the proof we need that Narnia exists. There is never a moment of disbelief that we, the audience, must suspend.
And she never stops, this bewitching Georgie kid, never stops believing, and so we never do either. Not when she meets the Faun Mr. Tumnus (played with a delicate desperation by James McAvoy), with his goat legs and big pointy ears and weakness for sardines and toast. Not when she meets friendly talking beavers or menacing talking wolves or messianic talking lions. And especially not when dealing with her older siblings: the four kids manifest an extraordinary relationship onscreen, one so credibly familial that it's hard to believe they are not actually related. Individually, they couldn't be better: William Moseley as 16-year-old Peter, Anna Popplewell as 15-year-old Susan, and Skandar Keynes as 12-year-old Edmund. As a now-squabbling, now-affectionate gaggle of siblings, they're amazing.
Moreover, we never have any reason to doubt anything Lucy and the others see because with this film, it becomes clear that there is nothing that well-done CGI cannot convincingly re-create. Every hair of Aslan's mane looks touchably soft (the deity-worthy voice of Liam Neeson lends the lion even more substantiality). In all the armies of creatures, you can't tell which are real, which are guys in costumes, and which are mere pixels. Inexpressibly graceful touches are woven into the CGI, too: Mr. Tumnus stamping snow off his hooves; Mr. Beaver running in his beaver-shaped chainmail shirt; even the tiny mice that nibble away at Aslan's bonds after the ritual that --
Well. No point in spoiling the tale for those who haven't read the book. Suffice to say that the ritual scene has its own charms, though they are dark and ominous ones. Tilda Swinton, as the White Witch, Aslan's -- and Narnia's -- nemesis, presides over a ceremony that is as grim and as terrifying as anything The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter throw at their kiddie (and adult) audiences. It's not just the fell critters, CGI or otherwise, who attend the rite: Swinton is horrifying, in a way the little kid in you wants to crawl under the blankets to get away from, and the sophisticated adult in you thrills to recognize such supreme talent. Swinton believes, too. We never, ever have reason to doubt her Witch's evil, even among all the exquisiteness of Narnia, ensuring that the sweetness never overwhelms, yet only feels all the sweeter by contrast.