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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010
Lucy (Henley) and Edmund (Keynes) Pevensie return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace (Poulter) where they meet up with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship The Dawn Treader. Along the way they encounter dragons, dwarves, merfolk, and a band of lost warriors before reaching the edge of the world.
Release Date: 10 December 2010 (USA)
The third film in a series, assuming you ever get that far, tends to be the real dividing line in what kind of legs series will have. You’ve gone beyond just a sequel now and are heading into territory of recurring stories and extended worlds. Do you wrap up everything that’s come before or do you create a continuing storyline that you can build on forever? More importantly, it’s the point where a creator proves he can continue bringing new and interesting developments to his story, or if he is stuck merely repeating the same elements over and over.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” films have something of a leg up on all of those questions as they are adapted from long lived books, giving them a set course of action either to follow or to at least use as a guide. It doesn’t mean original author C.S. Lewis didn’t face the same problems, but at the very least there’s been time enough since the novel was published to figure out how to move forward, particularly with the aid of knowing what’s going to come next instead of having to make it up on the fly.
Which give us “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” which ends up attempting to both finalize the original story of the adventures of the Pevensie children and continue developing the magical world of Narnia, introducing new characters and keeping the world open for new adventures in the future.
A year following the adventures in “Prince Caspian” and the pronouncement that older siblings William and Susan would never return to Narnia it’s time for the younger siblings – Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – to take over the action hero reins when they arrive on the deck of the Dawn Treader, headed for the end of the world. Unfortunately they’ve also brought their insufferable cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) along with them, but then again, nothing ever happens in Narnia by accident, does it?
The first film of the series not under the direction of originator Andrew Adamson, “Dawn Treader” nevertheless fits in snuggly with the feel of the rest of the series as new director Michael Apted (“Amazing Grace,” “The World Is Not Enough”) keeps up the tone of light and adventure and greater character depth that made the first two “Narnia” films work so well.
In fact most of what has served the series well continues to do so here, with the filmmakers taking special care to maintain the light adventure of the films while still developing and deepening them. Gorgeous design continues to be a hallmark of the series, with the ships titular voyage allowing the creators to build and create new lands and worlds rather than continue revisiting the same old wardrobes and castles. The only thing that may distract from the look is the post-processed 3D which works about as well as it has in any other film which was not actually shot with a 3D camera. More often than not it adds nothing and almost seems not to be present at all.
Along with the new worlds we get some new characters as well, notably the pitch perfect Poulter as Eustace. If the look and feel of Narnia were part of what made the series an initial success, it’s the casting that has kept the quality consistently high, both among the original children who continue to grow into their roles and the newer additions. The only exception is Simon Pegg, taking over from Eddie Izzard as the voice of the irascible mouse adventurer Reepicheep. Pegg is perfectly serviceable but the magic is missing a little.
The rest of what has made previous “Narnia” films work continues to hold true under Apted. The characters continue to be developed beyond just the simple children’s fable framework of the novels, which are by nature extremely surface oriented. Lucy has moved on from being the young, innocent believer to being on the cusp of womanhood with an interest in being seen in a more adult light, while Edmund finally escapes from his brother’s shadow only to find himself in the returning Caspian’s (Ben Barnes). Apted and his screenwriters develop this with wit and subtlety that both speaks to children and their parents without ever feeling childish.
It does, however, develop extremely quickly. The shortest of the "Narnia" films to date, "Dawn Treader" carries over some of the not-so-good habits of the first sequel including getting to Narnia right away and then barreling through the plot as fast possible in order to have enough time to devote to the action climax as a sea serpent tries to devour the Dawn Treader. The filmmakers have taken the most liberties to-date with the original book, adding in a plot about a nameless evil threatening the world in order to build in a ticking time bomb scenario to the voyage. To make that work they've condensed several of the stops down and added some extra characters to helpful explain what is going on and send the voyagers on to their next island. The end result is an occasionally choppy pace and a greater reliance on exposition than ever before. On the other hand, it also moves so quickly there is less reliance on large and gratuitous action sequences until the end, keeping it from bogging down too badly.
The standard perils of sequels are visible, from both the author and his adaptors, but a great deal of care and thought has let the filmmakers avoid most of the pitfalls and clamber out of the rest relatively unscathed. Better than "Prince Caspian," "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" effortlessly reminds what was so enjoyable about the Narnia series to begin with and makes you yearn for more, which makes it a definite success.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader