Watching The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a lot like eating a Big Mac for lunch. The food may taste good going down and the burger, as it sits in your stomach like a carbohydrate-heavy rock, will temporarily sate your appetite. A few hours later, when you’re sitting down to a home cooked meal with your family, you’ll have completely forgotten about the mass-produced and totally unremarkable meal you ate for lunch.
The latest entry in the Narnia series is definitely enjoyable and features enough fantasy-heavy action to keep most casual audiences entertained through the movie’s two-hour running time. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing particularly remarkable about the movie that will stick with audiences for more than a few hours after walking out of the theater and away from the magical world of fauns and talking lions.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes return as Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, the youngest two siblings of the series’ quartet of Narnia-rescuing children. With the older two siblings Peter and Susan off on their own real-world adventures, the series’ other two actors (William Moseley and Anna Popplewell) are relegated to brief cameos — letting Lucy and Edmund’s stories take center stage.
The movie wastes no time transporting the two children to the world of Narnia — quickly throwing the almost all-grown up children into another magical adventure. This time they must gather seven lost swords in order to put a stop to the growing green mist-covered evil that is emitting from a dark island that dampens the Narnian oceans.
The film is largely episodic in nature — recalling other ocean-set adventures such as Homer’s The Odyssey and a good portion of Ray Harryhausen’s filmography. Like Harryhausen’s films, The Dawn Treader is filled with shallow, if fun, adventure that’s neither remarkably bad nor remarkably good. Exciting special effects (including a genuinely frightening sea monster) and some pretty decent post-conversion 3D help to keep the latest Narnia film fresh and exciting as it’s happening. The constant stream of new locals and creatures will help keep the attention of young children and easily bored adults. Unfortunately, the film lacks the lack of genuinely innovative images or distinctive visual palate necessary to keep the film from being anything but the third (and probably last) in a dwindling series of children’s films.
Henley and Keynes do a good job with the material they are given — graduating into more adult concerns and problems as they’ve aged such as jealousy and self-esteem issues. Their human frailties are exaggerated by the presence of the green mist — sending the siblings further from the Christ-like Aslan (voice by Liam Neeson for a third time) and dangerously close to succumbing to their weaknesses.
Along for the ride is series newcomer Will Poulter as Eustace Scrubb, the siblings’ perpetually griping cousin. Sucked into Narnia along with his cousins, Eustace finds himself thrown in with two relatives he hates plus a wealth of fairy tale rejects he’s not even sure he believes in. As the shrill-voiced and cowardly Eustace, Poulter does a great job providing the foundation for a solid character arc. Most of the heavy lifting, though, is taken out of the young actor’s hands thanks to a special effects heavy transformation he undergoes — a transformation that leads to the majority of the growth the character undertakes.
Also returning to the series is Ben Barnes as Caspian, now the King of Narnia. Loosing the Inigo Montoya-esque accent he sported during Prince Caspian (an accent I actually dug), Barnes plays the character as more of a royal cookie-cutter English chap than he did in Prince Caspian, a movie that had Caspian as coming from a decidedly Spanish-influenced culture. Some of the character’s charm is lost in the process.
Speaking of charm, everybody’s favorite swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep is back — though this time Simon Pegg voices him. Pegg whole-heartedly gives the character his all — providing a lot of the heart and soul to the film.
With a lot of the series’ overtly Christian themes toned down (except for one very on-the-nose summarization of the series’ allegorical nature that takes place late in the film), Dawn Treader is much more of an action adventure prepared especially for the young ones than any pointedly calculated cinematic missionary. If the first two Narnia films were clearly influenced by The Lord of the Rings, the third film does take a much-appreciated attempt to form its own identity — albeit one clearly steeped in familiar tropes.
There are much worse films you can take your kids to this holiday season. Just don’t expect Dawn Treader to become a beloved children’s classic remembered far into the future. The movie is fun in the here and now but there’s just nothing remarkable about it that extends past the tip of Reepicheep’s mouse tail.
Director: Michael Apted Notable Cast: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Ben Barnes, Liam Neeson and Simon Pegg Writer(s): Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni based on the novel “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S Lewis
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.