Despite being labeled as children’s fantasy, the filmed versions of The Chronicles of Narnia have shown they can be just as appealing to adults. It’s probably because the filmmakers take the stories and messages from C.S. Lewis’ seven-part book series seriously and don’t feel the need to simplify them just to cater to younger viewers.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
By Matthew Huntley
December 23, 2010
That, at least, was how the first two films, The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, came across. With the latest installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the gears seemed to have shifted and the intended audience is no longer families, but children. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is well made and perfectly suitable for kids, but it remains locked to that demographic. As an adult, I found myself caring less about the characters’ journey this time around.
The story picks up three years after the events of Prince Caspian. Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) Pevensie are living in Cambridge with their aunt, uncle and bellyaching little cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter). Eustace keeps a journal and writes about his contempt for his cousins, especially for their beliefs in what he assumes to be illogical fantasy. However, he soon gets a first-hand account of it when the sea painting in Lucy’s room comes to life and all three children are swept up inside it, once again bringing them to the magical land of Narnia, where just about anything is possible.
The kids are rescued at sea by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and his crew of the Dawn Treader, which includes various men, talking bulls, rams, and that spunky little swordsman of a mouse, Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg). The Dawn Treader sets sail east toward uncharted waters in search of the Seven Great Lords, with a final destination, Reepicheep hopes, for Aslan’s country. Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the mighty lion, once again fulfills the role of Narnia’s spiritual and omnipresent guide.
While the kids are glad to be back, their purpose in Narnia isn’t so clear, especially after Caspian informs them he’s established peace. But on the Lone Islands, the group discovers slave trading still takes place and those not sold are sacrificed to an ominous green mist. To destroy the mist and restore order to Narnia, they must gather the swords of the Lost Lords and place them together on Aslan’s table. The screenplay works in the novel’s metaphors for sin and each of the main characters is tested by superficial things like looks, gold and power. Its messages are clear, straight and useful for kids.
Director Michael Apted does a commendable job of bringing this grandiose story to life, and although it lacks a distinct style, the production values are high and convincing, if somewhat ordinary by today’s standards. But in spit of it technical achievements, I remained mostly underwhelmed. There’s nothing overtly wrong with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but as a fantasy adventure, it lacks the magic and wonder that makes most movies from this genre stand out. The plot is too linear and there aren’t enough character-based moments to give the story a greater sense of depth and complexity. Of the few character moments there are, they feel added on just to fill in time between the action scenes. Part of the issue may also be that so many fantasy tales have come out recently that Dawn Treader simply gets lost in the shuffle. It feels ordinary when it should be extraordinary.
In the end, I’m torn about this movie. It’s suitable for kids and admirable on a technical level, and it has the best of intentions to relay positive messages to its audience in an exciting, entertaining way, but I think its value is reserved for younger viewers. If I were a parent, I would urge my kids to see it; as a film critic who’s also an adult, I found it lacked the narrative sophistication and marvel to make me care whether or not the story continues.