Three movies deep into the franchise, Narnia has already experienced it’s share of critical ups (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Witch, The Wardrobe and the Lion”) and the commercial downs (“Prince Caspian”) one might expect. So fans and studio heads alike were wondering how the franchise would fare with a lower budget, new director and a new studio taking the reins. If the latest installment is any indication, then “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” should make it to the next port.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” isn’t a fantastic voyage, but it just may be good enough to save the franchise. With a new studio (20th Century Fox), a new director (Michael Apted), a lower budget and the possible survival of the franchise at hand, it’s easy to walk into the theater with a bit of anxiety.
The elder and most likable of the Pevensies, Peter and Susan (William Moseley and Anna Popplewell respectively) aren’t accompanying us on this trip. Unfortunately, they’ve graduated to adulthood to live in that wacky country called America. Left behind are siblings, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes). Before they can get too bummed out by puberty, they’re whisked off (via painting, no less) back to Narnia. If the first two movies taught us anything, it’s that getting to Narnia is half the fun. This time, they’re accompanied by their pain in the family tree, cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) . Upon entering Narnia, they’re brought aboard the Dawn Treader, a grand ship captained by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes).
Audiences loved or hated the swashbuckling young Caspian in the last film. The Prince remains the rebel with a cause, although a little more fan accessible without the burden of having his name on the marquee. The land of Narnia is in peril, but not on land. This time, sea creatures and supernatural forces from an evil island swallow up hero and townspeople alike. It’s up to the crew of the Dawn Treader including everyone’s favorite talking mouse (well, next to Mickey) Reepicheep (Simon Pegg) to destroy the evil without losing themselves in the process.
Although “Dawn Treader” may be the salvation of the franchise, it cut a few corners financially and creatively. Director Michael Apted and his three screenwriters failed to capitalize on what made Narnia great. Instead, they chose to go by a bland, paint by numbers approach to what a family film should be. Gone are the breathtaking visuals of “The Witch, The Wardrobe and the Lion”, instead we’re “treated” to 3D. Inserting 3D effects after the fact definitely lowers the bar set by the first two films.
Character development and the human element which defined the first two films took a back seat in this one. The conflict between the prophesized royal Edmund and active Prince Caspian doesn’t reach the heights it could given it’s background and the payoff seems forced. The temptation of Edmund by Tilda Swinton’s seductively evil White Witch is just one of many missed opportunities to ignite the Narnian fire. Henley has a smile that could make you excuse the film’s shortcomings, but even that takes away from any sense of urgency or crisis. Poulter’s pompous and spoiled Eustace serves as comic relief bringing a new dimension to the family dynamic. The wise and prophetic Aslan (Liam Neeson) returns to provide sagely guidance and provide a topic regarding C.S. Lewis’ possible evangelical agenda. Biblical or not, Aslan’s presence seems to take place at just the right time and always in precise moderation.
Kids will love “Dawn Treader” because of its heroic heart and good intentions. There’s just enough cute kids, talking animals and self discovery to fit the formula for what should work. However, adults will find “Dawn Treader” just an ok journey with hopes of a better voyage in the future.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Rated PG for some frightening images and action. Released nationwide. Running time: 115 minutes.