The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
What It Is
The third film in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise begins again during the Second World War, circa 1940. Establishing the era with barely a minute’s worth of shorthand images — a plane in the sky, a British soldier on the street — the film proceeds to re-introduce the younger Pevensies, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and her brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes), living near Cambridge, England, with their aunt and uncle and wholly obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter). While their older siblings are away — Peter (William Moseley) studying for exams and Susan (Anna Popplewell) in America — the younger kids are left to entertain themselves.
Toward that end, they discover a painting in Lucy’s bedroom that features a wide sea and a ship that Lucy notices looks “Narnian” just before the water turns real and floods the room, dumping all three children into the ocean. The ship, captained by King Caspian (Ben Barnes), picks them and so they begin a series of adventures, framed by their efforts to retrieve seven magical swords that need to be laid as a bunch on Aslan’s Table (the god-lion is voiced again by Liam Neeson).
This means they travel, by ship, in search of Dark Island, “a place where evil lurks,” landing briefly on island after another en route. Their fellow sailors are swarthy and stereotypical, their assorted adversaries easily dispatched. They undergo trials (arguments among themselves, a pool that turns whatever touches it to gold) and fight individual temptations. While Lucy envies Susan’s beauty (and so loses sight, for a moment, of her own self-worth), Edmund still wants to be a powerful decision maker in his own right, a desire that brings back the dead White Queen (Tilda Swinton) as a seductive ghost, still trying to fool him with the same false promises she made in the first two movies. (If he hasn’t figured it out by now, you certainly have.)
If the new adventures aren’t precisely predictable, they are episodic and lack a vivid emotional arc for Lucy or Edmund. Eustace does go through obvious changes, but he’s almost more opaque at film’s end than at the start.
Why It’s Fun
We might all be grateful for Eustace, who right away declares his affection for “books of real information,” as opposed to the fanciful fictions his cousins prefer. He doubts the existence of Narnia even when he lands splat in it. From there he is instantly annoyed at the talking mouse Reepicheep (now voiced by Simon Pegg) and stubbornly refuses to follow orders from Caspian. (The King is caught up in his own dilemma, being deferential to Edmund and Lucy but also used to ruling his kingdom on his own for the past three years while they’ve been away, and oh yes, still carrying a torch for Susan.)
As always, the children’s physical journey serves as a metaphor for their growing up. Specifically, as is well known regarding C.S. Lewis’ children’s books, this means growing into a mature faith... in Aslan. More than once, they must explain this faith to Eustace, whose slowness to buy in makes him this movie’s focus. He learns to sword-fight, to believe in Aslan, and even to like the mouse. And when one of his lessons dictates he must be turned into a fire-breathing dragon, the poor kid actually reveals emotions beyond grumpy and frustrated.
This makes him both sympathetic and a little charming (in animated-dragon form, anyway), which sets him a few steps beyond his cousins, who should know better by now. Eustace’s emotional journey provides the movie with the few tensions it has. For the most part, it’s cluttered with special effects — waves crashing, ship’s masts tilting, and a series of long-lost lords under magical spells that have left them frozen or enfeebled.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the books — not to mention the first two movies — will appreciate the film’s existence, even if it does take liberties with the original plot. Lucy and Edmund are neither young enough to be consistently awed by what they experience, nor mature enough to understand it all, and so it’s never quite clear what they’re understanding or what they’re leaving to “faith.”
The post-production 3D conversion doesn’t bring much to the proceedings, as the screen is largely bereft of depth. While some of Eustace’s dragons-swooping makes for movement on screen, the effect would be just as good in 2D.
What To Be Aware Of
The film’s violence, like that in the series’ second installment, Prince Caspian, is at times jarring — swordfights are loud and roughly edited, even though they produce little in the way of injuries. But the violence lacks references to the real-world war in London, which helped to ground the books’ interest in faith and hope. Here the “magic” seems more superficial, less thrilling.
As the young adventurers make their way through the unknown Eastern Seas to World’s End, they encounter invisible bullies (who turn out to be clumsy one-footed creatures trying to “intimidate” them for no good reason), a guiding blue star in human form (who may or may not be untruthful), and a giant sea monster with multiple rows of teeth and huge tentacles.
The voyagers also worry briefly about what World’s End might be like. And when at last they wind up on a beach with Aslan in the digital flesh, they are informed that World’s End is just a step before Aslan’s Land. The human children decide they miss their relatives after all, and so decline that last adventure; Reepicheep takes the challenge however, which leaves everyone — including the boy-again Eustace — in tears. It’s a weird moment, as the mouse is essentially dying to go to heaven, but the film never shows you where he’s headed. Inquisitive younger viewers might wonder what’s next.
5 out of 10
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Director: Michael Apted
Cast: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton
US Premiere: December 10, 2010
UK Premiere: December 9, 2010