In the field of fantasy epics, C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” have been greatly beloved, but always considered a bit lightweight. While it lacks the bombast of “The Lord of the Rings” or the cohesion of “Harry Potter,” Narnia still has remained relevant throughout the generations thanks to a lot of pluck and appeal to kids’ sense of adventure.
We stand three films in to what is a seven-book series with the release of (pause for ridiculously lengthy title) “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
To date the results of the films have been mixed. The first movie, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” was thrilling fun and introduced us to Narnia and the Pevensie children who stumble onto this magical and troubled world.
The second time around “Prince Caspian” proved to be a mostly joyless outing that got bogged down in Narnian politics and shaky plotting. The success and failures of both rested squarely in the pages of Lewis’ work.
Fortunately with “Dawn Treader” the filmmakers were a little more proactive and kept the story framed to a tight little quest and this movie comes out a quite a bit lighter on its feet.
Maybe some of this has to do with the cast being slimmed down a bit as the elder Pevensies, Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are now too old to enter Narnia. This leaves Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), who get sucked back into this dream world of magic while staying with their aunt and uncle.
They are reluctantly joined by their abrasive, know-it-all cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) who is none-to happy to be dealing with quests and kings and talking animals.
The children find themselves on a boat called the Dawn Treader (hence the title) where they reunite with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and join him on a mission to locate some missing lords and rid the world of a vague, never quite defined, evil.
Also on board is the swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep, voiced by the incomparable Simon Pegg who takes over the character from the equally incomparable Eddie Izzard. I refuse to compare them.
Of course presiding over all of this is the wise and powerful ruler of Narnia, Aslan the Lion (Liam Neeson) who doesn’t do much but provide occasional guidance from afar and have his name mentioned excessively in the script.
Much of the credit for the quality and focus of “Dawn Treader” should be given to venerable British director Michael Apted who is better known for character dramas like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Gorillas in the Mist.”
This is probably why “Dawn Treader” is at its best when it is focusing on people instead of the special effects.
The visuals in this movie are as wondrous as you would expect, however it is being presented in absolutely unnecessary and tacked-on 3D. If you felt robbed by the crap-tacular 3D effects of “Clash of the Titans,” then you’ll likely feel downright irate if you pony up extra cash for a movie that takes zero advantage of the third dimension.
Save your dollars, see “Dawn Treader” in glorious 2D and you’ll be perfectly satisfied with the results.
What will be interesting is the future of this franchise. “Dawn Treader” is the last film to heavily feature the Pevensie children and the question remains if the producers will be willing to see this series through to the bitter end. The fact that the “Chronicles” wind up being a very thinly veiled allegory for Christianity is the 500lb lion, er, gorilla in the room, and how the filmmakers handle this inevitability should be fascinating to watch, especially if the movies continue to rake in the cash.
As for “Dawn Treader,” it is a fun and entertaining piece of moviemaking. It’s not particularly memorable, but it does offer up two solid hours of holiday distraction which a lot of us will be desperate for as December wears on.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
▲ Mat DeKinder (firstname.lastname@example.org) was once described by a guy named Nate as “the Jackie Moon of film critics.” He appears courtesy of Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis.