THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is the third installment of the Narnia franchise, based on the children's fantasy novels and Christian apologia by C.S.Lewis. It comes to our screen after a troubled birth. After the disappointing box office on PRINCE CASPIAN, Disney pulled out of funding, having tried unsuccessfully to restrict the budget to $100m. And presumably in order to boost sales, Walden Media retrofitted the movie with 3D, resulting in a picture that looks very handsome indeed when you take off your 3D glasses, but dim and murky with the glasses on. But for all that, I think THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is a perfectly entertaining family film, especially if you are not wedded to the books.
As the movie opens, World War One has begun, and the elder Pevensie children are in America with their parents. (In other words, they are now too old to go to Narnia - the magical land where good fights evil amidst a mish-mash of ancient mythological creatures, talking animals and Celtic lore). This leaves the younger children, Lucy (Georgia Henley) and Edmund (Skander Keynes) stuck in Cambridge, living in the house of their beastly Cousin Eustace (THE SON OF RAMBOW's Will Poulter). Lucy is kicking against her youth, wanting to be as pretty and desired as her elder sister. Edmund is kicking against his youth too, hating a world in which he is no longer a king. And poor Eustace is kicking against his delusional cousins who keep going on about Narnia.
Five minutes later and we are back in Narnia, aboard the Dawn Treader - the finest ship in the Narnian fleet. Prince Caspian is now King and has pacified his lands. But he still needs to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia and, we are later told by a magician, lay their seven swords on the table of Aslan in order to vanquish an evil mist that tries to corrupt and tempt us. This forms the MacGuffin of the film - a driving reason for the characters to visit a number of strange and fantastical islands, to battle slave traders and sea serpents. The green mist also provides a number of moral challenges - offering Lucy beauty, Edmund the chance to emerge from his elder brother and Caspian's shadow, and tormenting Caspian with his father's disapproval. Poor Cousin Eustace doesn't even get the psychological treatment but is turned into a dragon in order to teach him humility and kindness! And so, after some rather fast-paced and random seeming island-hopping and pouting and moaning, everyone eventually emerges wiser and better at the End of the World with Aslan the Lion aka Jesus. Lucy and Peter and Caspian have resisted temptation, Reepicheep has his final reward and Eustace has faith.
There's a lot to like here. Murkey 3D aside, the production design, costumes and visuals are handsome - the sunsets glint on the sea and the End of the World looks suitably magisterial and beautiful. The acting is first class. Georgia Henley is superb as wise, courageous Lucy, but Will Poulter absolutely steals the show as Cousin Eustace. And thank goodness poor Ben Barnes has been allowed to drop his Spanish accent! The only shame is that they couldn't get Eddie Izzard to reprise his role as Reepicheep - the valiant little mouse - especially as his story culminates in what should be a very moving scene - I certainly found it so, even with Simon Pegg's rather flat delivery. And, finally, there's enough action - dragons and sea serpents included - to keep little ADD minds constantly amused.
The negatives are twofold. For the "casual" viewer, the movement from island to island seems a little random and ill-developed. So too does the resentment of Edmund for Caspian, and Caspian's torment. We sort of get that they are being tormented by the green mist but it's never particularly well developed. For the "committed" viewer, who has read and loved the books, there is plenty to complain about. The introduction of the seven swords (horcrux like), the reduction of Lucy's character to teenage angst, the ease with which the dragon's bracelet is removed, the length of time for which Eustace remains a dragon, the fact that the sea serpent is now conjured by Edmund's imagination (Staypuft Marshmallow man!).....
These are all valid concerns, and THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER has more gaping holes than it should. But, as I said before, it's a perfectly enjoyable confection, and with Will Poulter as Eustace Scrubb, I certainly hope it does enough business for the studio to consider making THE SILVER CHAIR.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is on global release bar the Nordics, where it opens on Christmas Day, Argentina where it opens on January 6th, Venezuela where it opens on February 4th and Japan where it opens on February 25th.