The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Cast:
Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie
Skandar Keynes as Edmund Pevensie
Ben Barnes as Caspian
Will Poulter as Eustace Scrubb
Gary Sweet as Drinian
Terry Norris as Lord Bern
Bruce Spence as Lord Rhoop
Bille Brown as Coriakin
Laura Brent as Lilliandil
Colin Moody as Auctioneer
Tilda Swinton as The White Witch
Anna Popplewell as Susan Pevensie
William Moseley as Peter Pevensie
Shane Rangi as Tavros
Arthur Angel as Rhince

Directed by Michael Apted

Story:
Lucy and Edmund return to Narnia for the final time with their cousin, Eustace. Reunited with King Caspian and Reepicheep, they voyage aboard the ship, The Dawn Treader, in search of seven swords that can unite the land.

Analysis:
Arriving just in time for the holidays, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” seeks to capture the charm and magic of the season in a family-friendly fantasy adventure that returns some familiar faces to the big screen for a third and final outing. Being the third adventure in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Treader” primarily succeeds as, if not a perfect film, an immensely pleasurable one.

Narnia’s equivalent of a road movie, “Treader” offers a return to the sense of wonder that infused “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and which was lacking (due, in large parts to a surprisingly faithful adaptation of an inferior novel) in 2008′s “Prince Caspian.” While the previous effort saw Narnia in ruins, “Treader” celebrates the magic of the world, showcasing adventures across Narnia’s isles in true sea picture fashion, a genre refreshing enough to find on the big screen in and of itself.

Returning to the role of Lucy, Georgie Henley’s performance is rather astounding viewed back to back with her debut in the first film. For a series that deals specifically with adolescence and coming of age, the maturation of Lucy (now taking the forefront, alongside her brother, Edmund) stands out as a bit of real world wonder that can only truly play in an ongoing series, somewhat amplified by Georgie not (yet) having reached a level of fame outside the three Narnia films. A face and talent unique to the series, Georgie and Lucy are, to the audience, intertwined as character and performer. Georgie’s Lucy is charismatic and relatable and serves as a sort of divining rod for the heart and soul of the film, particularly in a weepy-eyed final scene.

Skander Keynes’ Edmund and Ben Barnes’ Caspian fare a bit less successfully, though through no fault of the actors. “Treader’s” chief misstep is its frantic pace, which forces the adventure to happen onscreen far faster than it does in the text. In this, Edmund and Caspian’s development winds up somewhat slighted and elements from the novel are more hinted at than actually get to unfold onscreen.

The true breakout talent of “Treader,” though, comes in the form of Will Poulter and his portrayal of Eustace. The character’s first visit to Narnia (should the film series continue, Eustace will now takes up the slack as protagonist), Poulter, who previously turned out an impressive performance in “Son of Rambow,” is faced with the difficult task of playing an arrogant, unlikable character who must, by the story’s end, have nevertheless won over the audience. Not only does he manage, but Poulter does so without resorting to cheap tricks. His Eustace is a true bit of acting talent and shines through with nuance that will likely mark Poulter as a talent whose full stardom remains forthcoming.

Though little needs be said for Liam Neeson’s Aslan outside of the role, again, playing up the actor’s impressive voice talent, one of the film’s new cast members deserves a shout-out for his spot-on but arguably thankless vocal work; Simon Pegg steps in as the voice of Reepicheep, replacing Eddie Izzard, who played the role in “Caspian.” Pegg does so with a subtlety that leaves only those in the know acutely aware that a swap has taken place. Channeling Izzard’s performance, Pegg offers an older and somewhat more mellow Reep whose separate connections to both Lucy and Eustace play more emotionally than a CGI mouse probably has any right to.

Though Michael Apted is a newcomer to the Narnia films (Andrew Adamson having directed the first two chapters), there’s a seamlessness to the installments that allows this third chapter to play in very much the same world as its predecessors. Arguably the most cinematic story in the series, “Treader” could very will be the best Narnia yet.

All of this being said, the film has its shortcomings. While it’s the first Narnia film to see a 3D release, the effect is neither something to be praised nor to write home about and, as mentioned, there’s some trouble with the movie’s pacing, confining the action of the original story to a tighter framework than would be ideal and making the central plot–the crew of the Dawn Treader having to collect seven swords from the islands of Narnia–more of a confusing MacGuffin than anything of substance. In this, there’s certainly the sense that having read the books will increase the enjoyment of narrative and, like many fantasy franchises, will play with fewer complaints to anxious fans than to anyone with a distaste or disinterest for the first two adventures. One must be open to a childlike sense of wonder which, while it may wreck havoc with many a critical approach, has always been more or less one of the rules for visiting Narnia in the first place.

The Bottom Line:
Fresh, fun and magical, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is a welcome holiday treat for audiences young and old and a solid bet for family entertainment. With an additional four books left in the series, “Treader” makes a strong case for cinematic Narnia going all the way.

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