The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Directed by Michael Apted
Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie
Skandar Keynes as Edmund Pevensie
Ben Barnes as Caspian
Will Poulter as Eustace Scrubb
Gary Sweet as Drinian
Running time: 115 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
Third film in the Narnia franchise is good-looking and unambiguous: a lovely distraction from winter’s chill and holiday stress.
C.S. Lewis’s classic Chronicles of Narnia novels speak for themselves: they’ve been devoured by generations of kids who loved every word. The first two books and films follow the Pevensie siblings—Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan—as they escape from WWII-torn Britain into a fantasy land called Narnia, where they become sovereigns and warriors. Narnia is a world in which children’s voices are heard, in which the young acquire agency and power, where they are tempted by wickedness and able to make decisions for themselves. In other words, it’s unlike anything children experience in their real lives. The allure is clear. Likewise, especially in the third film adaptation, the novels’ Christian allegory is plain. Some of Lewis’s readers attributed this “suppositional” religiosity to some nefarious scheme to convert children using fairy tales. The author wrote in Of Other Worlds, “I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.” Whether of its own accord or not, the metaphor is smack-you-on-the-forehead obvious in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Whether you appreciate this or wrinkle your nose at it, the movie is still mindless, escapist holiday fun. (And that’s meant in the best possible way.)
Voyage of the Dawn Treader opens on the two youngest Pevensie siblings after they’ve relocated to their aunt and uncle’s house. Pubescent Edmund (Skandar Keynes) tries to enlist in the British army with a false ID. Poor Edmund has fought wars in Narnia! He was a king there, and even more importantly, he was a man. Unfortunately in the real world he’s nothing but a teenager. His younger sister, purest believer Lucy (Georgie Henley) misses Narnia but suffers along. Their cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), a firm believer in facts and logic, takes great pleasure in making fun of their ridiculous faith in another world (Eustace’s reason, obviously atheism in disguise, is firmly mocked throughout). Then of course all three end up in Narnia aboard the Dawn Treader with Caspian (Ben Barnes). Caspian seeks the seven lost lords of Narnia and the Dawn Treader sails to the Lone Islands. Various adventures play out as the crew’s faith is tested and their temptations thrown by the wayside. Edmund’s vice is greed, Lucy’s is envy of her sister Susan. When Eustace discovers and tries to steal a dragon’s treasure, he finds himself transformed into a creature you wouldn’t expect but he becomes far more useful to the quest in his impenetrable alternate form than in his cowardly human one. Reepicheep the heroic mouse (voiced by Simon Pegg), whose optimism and bravery knows no bounds, coaxes Eustace to help the Narnians win their war. A glowing star in human form guides their way, a truly frightening sea serpent guards the path to righteousness, and as always the Narnians come out on top. Aslan the great lion (voiced by Liam Neeson) isn’t as physically present in the third film, but mentions to Lucy and Edmund that he’s “known by another name in your world” and leads the crew to his country at the end of the world—a lovely place where only the virtuous dwell and from which there’s no turning back (heaven).
After Disney officially dropped the third Chronicles of Narnia film due to logistical and budgetary issues, the series’ filmic future was uncertain. Twentieth Century Fox snapped up the franchise and assigned a new director for the third film (Michael Apted). The plague of 3D films, whose Patient Zero was Avatar, is firmly upon us though the contagion is dying down (to belabor a metaphor). What studios seem to forget is that the effect of 3D wears off after the trailers. Even the most gorgeous films hardly benefit from the technology—but studios certainly bank on the plastic glasses.
Fortunately Voyage of the Dawn Treader is truly a beautifully rendered film—and probably is in regular old 2D as well. The Motion Picture Company’s graphics and effects, Dante Spinotti’s cinematography, the animal effects and makeup collaborate to form a film that’s like watching a moving painting. The script is wholly unambiguous: each and every line is clearly important to the plot, every motion required to advance the agenda. Every action has a reaction, and nothing requires much thought. It’s all very straightforward, and the movie’s editing and pacing are professional and intelligent. There’s not much to laugh at, but not much to scoff at either. Keynes and Henley look older and taller, and their acting abilities haven’t changed much since the last film. Will Poulton displays brilliant potential as a comedic actor as he shrieks and complains his way through the role of insufferable, stodgy, skeptical Eustace; hopefully we’ll see more of him.
The first Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with its epic battle scenes and Christmasy tone, was undoubtedly the best. But Disney’s absence from the franchise is not glaring, and director Michael Apted, who took over from Andrew Adamson at the helm of Dawn Treader, picks up the series admirably. If what you want from your holiday theater excursion is an evening of pleasant diversion, then this is the very movie for you. As with the first two films, the third is the perfect opportunity to plop yourself in a theater seat and unwind.