A tyrannical White Witch claiming authority where she has none and leading through fear is a governmental drag. But it would seem to be the least of Narnia’s problems as a nation.

This place’s centaur warriors, chatty beavers and Christ-like lions might want to re-think their vote on the open-trade policy with darn near every other far-off land ever put onscreen.

For a movie wishing for wonderment from the adventures of four British kids in a strange world, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe imports from other movies more than it transports. Closing credits list what seems like every special-effects employee working on this planet, but there’s little impressive immersion in creatures, cultures or clashes.

A climactic confrontation might as well be on Middle-Earth’s Pellenor Fields on a sunny day with fewer rocks and more winged creatures dropping boulders. Cameras pan to a high, snowy mountain pass just like in the Lord of the Rings films. A bigger bang with half the tension ends a King Arthur-like ice floe standoff.

Animated foxes and beavers — 3D characters with 1D personalities, all — look like they’ve stumbled in from a Shrek 3 pre-production meeting. Numerous animal mutations resemble rejects from Dr. Moreau’s lab. Even Tilda Swinton, skillfully evil and manipulative as the White Witch, lives in a lair that looks a lot like Superman’s pad on Krypton.

Yes, C.S. Lewis created Narnia’s serialized situations, settings and characters long before those movies. But any of his storytelling eloquence is gone. Hoping for franchise success by association with other movies, no matter how great the mimicry, steals too much heart from a tale with a perfect set-up for emotional content.

In the midst of a raging World War II, the Pevensie children — Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy — are sent for safekeeping to a country manor owned by Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). Their dysfunction comes from their displacement, but bratty whining grates a tad hard on the nerves. Only the duplicitous, squirrelly Edmund (Skander Keynes) becomes an unlikely figure to root for. 

During a game of hide and seek, youngest Lucy hides in a wardrobe that somehow opens into Narnia. Eventually, all four children go through and learn they are part of the land’s prophecy that sons and daughters of Eve (i.e., humans) will save the land from Jadis, the White Witch and take their places as kings and queens of Narnia.

To fulfill it, they must stand and fight Jadis alongside lion leader Aslan. He’s given sleepy voice by Liam Neeson and Jesus-Christ symbolism with sacrifices for sins and eventual resurrection. His as-it-were Passion scene, where he’s dragged, shaved and stabbed, likely will rub some people the wrong way. It seemed stranger that the film’s Santa figure would endorse its Jesus one.

This might seem like a case of a star rating exceeding the description, but thoughts keep going back to Swinton and Keynes.

Lion‘s threads of sibling dysfunction and parental abandonment really hit hard in their scenes together, as Jadis lures Edmund into her trust with sweets and cocoa. The end credits also offer up a “Coffee by” credit; the movie is decaffeinated creatively, but these performers give it punch.