I’ve never read the books myself, but people seem to love C.S. Lewis’ "The Chronicles of Narnia" like I love a wacky, wonderful Tom Cruise performance: unconditionally. Narnia is, much like Star Wars , the sort of thing people grow up with, which makes it sort of untouchable. So, for an outsider like me to dribble off my two cents on the latest film installment seems, if not unfair, at least poised to provide a less-than-complete picture of the movie’s potential full effect.
Of Lewis’ seven Narnia novels, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is adapted from the third, which follows a group of adventurers as they voyage across Narnia’s treacherous Eastern Ocean. For the uninitiated, there’s enough exposition to intuit some plot and character information, but I’d imagine Narnia fans could only be pleased with how quickly this picture gets moving.
Before you know it, we’ve traveled from WWII-era Oxford, England to the deck of a Narnian ship, “The Dawn Treader.” Onboard are Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), their grumbling cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), King Caspian (Ben Barnes) and the noble little mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg), among others.
This is episodic, high-seas adventure in the most classic sense. While searching for the seven lost Lords of Narnia, the crew visits many small islands and encounters various dangers. Ultimately, they battle a giant sea serpent in order to expel a mysterious green mist that has the power to make people vanish. They also want to summon the ghost of Tilda Swinton (who reprises her role as The White Witch).
Though it is fun, I felt a bit like the priggish Eustace at times, exasperated by all the gung-ho heroics and weirded out by the talking animals. No matter what Lewis wrote in 1952, this movie feels distinctly Disney-fied (although this one wasn’t actually distributed by Disney). And it certainly lacks the majestic sense of importance that emanated from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations, another fantasy series that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t see in the proper sequence.
I left the film with the same vague urge to read Lewis’ books and the same vague disinterest in the previous two films that I’ve always had. But as an adventure film and a holiday-season family attraction, The Dawn Treader is exciting enough. And it looks pretty good in 3D, too.