If you're expecting the natural successor to The Lord Of The Rings, look away now. The first chunk of The Chronicles Of Narnia may boast the same technicians, goblin-makers and New Zealand locations, but where Rings was a grown-up fantasy, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is firmly aimed at kids.
And, at its very best, there's a glowing sense of innocent magic to the tale of four children who stumble through a wardrobe into a land of talking animals, mythical beasts and evil witches. Andrew Adamson may bring little of the sly adult wit he used on Shrek but he's reshaped CS Lewis' novel with grace, smoothing most rough spots and adding a good dollop of fresh material (the opening London Blitz sequence is borderline inspired) without alienating hardcore fans.
There are slight problems with a few of the big action sequences - the final battle feels oddly flat in places - but Adamson's made a pretty assured jump from animation to working with flesh-and-blood actors. The docs and commentaries are crammed with stories of how he shot rehearsals without telling the kids, staged real snowball fights to film and even blindfolded little Georgie Henley (Lucy) before leading her onto the snowy Narnia set for the first time, in order for her eyes to be showing a real sense of wonder when he yanked the blindfold off. For him, the trick lies in getting the performers to behave naturally and basically play themselves.
Quite what this says about Tilda Swinton (a chilling White Witch) isn't clear but Henley, Skandar Keynes (Edward) and Anna Popplewell (Susan) are respectively, as sweet, grumpy and spirited on screen as they seem in real-life on the extras. A different directing approach might have been better suited for William Mosely (Peter) though, who unfortunately comes across on the featurettes and commentaries as a kinda Tim-Nice-But-Dim clone. Sadly that's also the way his character is on screen, making you feel that - on this evidence - Peter would struggle to be a decent head prefect, let alone a heroic and dashing high king.
As for the extras, they major on quantity rather than quality. The sheer tonnage of info about costumes, armour and monster effects is impressive, but "extra fatigue" sets in for anyone who's ever watched a Making Of doc before. There are all the familiar snippets of behind the scenes bods explaining how many swords/tents/dresses they made, before spoddy techs talk you through assembling monsters on computers and actors tell you how great everyone is ("He's not just a genius, he's a nice genius," someone gushes of Adamson). Interactive bits and bobs freshen things up but the package needs more new ideas rather than well-executed old ones.
What new ideas? Well, they could have dug into the media blather about the film's perceived Christian subtext, for instance. Wonder if they'll let that question out of the closet/wardrobe in time for the DVD of the second film in the series, Prince Caspian?