The lion's share of the adventure
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, December 10, 2010
It's great to be back in Narnia.
If you're anything like the Pevensie children featured in C.S. Lewis's beloved series of fantasy books about siblings who discover a parallel universe - the first three installments of which have now been made into impeccably faithful films - you've been itching to get back there.
For readers, the saddest thing about Lewis's magical kingdom, accessible only through hidden portals, was always the fact that the Pevensie children couldn't live there forever and eventually had to return to England. Similarly, for filmgoing fans, the "Chronicles of Narnia" movies (the latest being "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader") can't come along often enough. For them, these cinematic visits to Narnia may last only an hour or two, but they're a welcome respite from real life.
Directed by Michael Apted (of the "7 Up" documentary series), the latest adventure focuses on the youngest two of the four Pevensies: Lucy (a pitch-perfect Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes). While visiting their bratty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), Lucy and Edmund, along with Eustace, are swept away, quite literally, when the waves in a framed painting of the ocean inundate their bedroom with a cascade of splashing seawater. Before they know it, they've been flushed straight out of World War II-era England and onto the deck of a Narnian vessel.
It's a fantastic special effect, and the ship looks exactly like you would hope it does. Credit the art and production-design folks for doing a whiz-bang job.
When Lucy, Edmund and Eustace dry off, the three find themselves on board the Dawn Treader, a ship under the command of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the hero of the previous film. Having never been to Narnia, Eustace, of course, is a bit bowled over by his arrival in a land where humans live side by side with talking animals and other mythological beasts. (Tavros, one of the Dawn Treader's officers, is a minotaur.)
One of the greatest characters in all literature - if you're 7 - Reepicheep the swashbuckling mouse is also back (though here he's voiced by Simon Pegg instead of Eddie Izzard). Eustace's sputtering indignation about this strange state of affairs - along with his continued insistence on reporting his abduction to the British consular office - is one of the film's funniest running gags. With his perpetually astonished-looking eyebrows, Poulter (of "Son of Rambow") has a wonderful face for the job.
So where is the Dawn Treader heading? And why have Lucy and Edmund been called back? Ever since "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," the first book and film in the series, the children know that they can be summoned back to Narnia only in times of great crisis.
Seven Narnian lords, it seems, have mysteriously gone missing. Only by finding them - or by finding and reuniting their seven missing swords - can Caspian and the children break the spell of evil, embodied by a creepy green mist, that has descended upon the kingdom since our last visit.
As they sail to what turns out to be the edge of the world, the children will have to confront their own dark sides.
And if all this sounds a little "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"-ish - horcruxes, anyone? - it is. Just remember this: C.S. Lewis thought of it first.
There is, as anyone who has read the books knows, a powerful Christian subtext that runs throughout these tales. It's one that the films have never shied away from. The wise and powerful Aslan the lion, for instance - a beautifully rendered computer-generated character (voiced by Liam Neeson), who died and was resurrected in the first film and who reappears here - is an obvious Christ figure.
Don't worry. There's nothing quite as heavy-handed as martyrdom here. Still, "Dawn Treader" does contain strongly religious themes. After all, it isn't every kid's movie that wrestles with the subject of faith in a higher power, or sin, or the afterlife. And it isn't every kid's film that can do it so entertainingly.
Sure, that's heavy stuff if you're looking for it. But it doesn't spoil the great, great fun to be had in Narnia - or the magical spell it casts - if you're not.
Contains scary monsters and and a few battle sequences, but no blood.