Picaresque ‘Narnia: Dawn Treader’ sails into adventure
It’s not exactly a pirate movie. But there’s enough shipboard action (roiling seas, burnished sunsets, athletic swordplay) to cheer any would-be seafarer, child, or child at heart, in the third of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia adventures, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Be advised, an unfortunate amount of screen time is devoted to the brattiest of the film’s youthful protagonists. Still, veteran director Michael Apted keeps the story pulsing along at a good clip, moral lessons are succinct and not too heavy-handed, and the magical elements are stylishly done.
This time out, the two eldest Pevensie siblings have grown up and joined their parents in the States, leaving Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley, now a poised young tween) back in wartime Britain in their aunt and uncle’s home, at the mercy of their snotty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). In this chapter, a painting is their portal back to Narnia, dragging the disbelieving Eustace along for the ride.
Aboard the royal vessel Dawn Treader, commanded by King (formerly Prince) Caspian (Ben Barnes), on a voyage through the outer isles of Narnia, the kids are drawn into a new quest involving seven lost lords whose magical swords must be recovered to break an evil spell. In classic Hero’s Journey fashion, each of them must quell the darkness in his or her own self before they can defeat the darkness “out there.” (Lucy’s secret wish to step into her beautiful older sister’s shoes produces the most eerily poignant of these episodes.)
Happily, there aren’t as many military-style battle campaigns in this installment. Instead we get sinister slave-traders, a malevolent green mist, a cool Book of Incantations, and a climactic shipboard struggle that pits a giant sea serpent against a flying dragon. All of which is more fun than the many tedious scenes of attempted comedy involving peevish, whining Eustace. Young Poulter (Son of Rambow) is a terrific little actor, so when he plays obnoxious, he’s completely insufferable. Of course his character evolves (how is one of the film’s best surprises), but the belabored supercilliousness of his early comic-relief persona is hard to take. I’d have rather spent more time with the charming, briefly-glimpsed quicksilver merfolk, or the fantastical ship’s crew (including minotaurs and fauns, but, sadly, no centaurs this time out).
On the plus side, Barnes makes a stalwart young king, and beloved Messiah figure Aslan, the Lion (voice by Liam Neeson), makes a guest appearance to reinforce the concept of a Christian heaven. Then there’s courtly swashbuckling mouse, Reepicheep (voice by Simon Pegg) who steals every scene he’s in.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER ★★★ With Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, and Ben Barnes. Directed by Michael Apted. A 2oth Century Fox release. Rated PG. 115 minutes.