by HELEN GEIB
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third film in the series based on the popular children’s books by C. S. Lewis. On par with the good parts of the first film and a marked improvement over the second, Dawn Treader is the best of a decidedly uneven series.
Anyone reading this review is presumably familiar with the basic premise of the Narnia series, so I’ll skip the recap. The “our world” children in this installment are Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), the younger of the four siblings who starred in the first two films, and their bratty younger cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). After being pulled into Narnia through an oil painting of an ocean-faring sailing vessel, they surface next to the Dawn Treader, the royal ship of King Caspian (Ben Barnes). Also on board is Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg), the swashbuckling talking mouse. Adventure awaits as the Dawn Treader sails for the outer islands, and perhaps even Aslan’s kingdom at the edge of the world.
In the context of the film series, Dawn Treader is notable for the filmmakers’ discovery that their source material is Christian allegory. In the first film, the allegory played second fiddle to the magical fantasyland delights and overlong battle sequences. The second film sacrificed deeper meaning to the imperative of playing to action-minded teenage boys; although not without some superficial entertainment value, the film was essentially pointless.
The primary audience for Dawn Treader is children whose parents want to teach them about Christian values. The story is spiced with adventure, magic, sword fights, and CG creatures, but the true battle is the greater struggle against temptation. This is presented without equivocation, in terms children can easily understand and relate to. Likewise, the story’s final part teaches about death and Christian faith, and although it diverges in the details, is true in substance and spirit to Lewis’ book.
Despite the standalone plot, it would be a mistake to come to Dawn Treader without having read the first two books, or at least seen the prior films. The film’s principal weakness is that the characters’ individual stories feel curtailed- somewhat to rather badly. In particular, Edmund and Caspian’s triumph-over-temptation subplots depend very heavily on knowing their backstories. Lucy’s subplot is much closer to being self-contained within this episode, but similarly has little emotional resonance unless you already know and like her from before. Eustace’s story, closely intertwined with Reepicheep’s, is merely given less screen time than it deserves, although hugely appealing nonetheless.
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My review of the forgettable The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.