Since I don’t know the original stories, I think I have the same expectation for each of the Narnia movies before I see them. Some kind of fantasy conflict will lead a bunch of kids to fight alongside some magical creatures for the good of the world. That’s been the case for the first two movies, but the third has a slight twist as it’s taken things on a nautical slant. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some swash-buckling, Pirates of the Caribbean overtones (not to mention some obvious parallel’s to Homer’s Odyssey) rather than the epic battles waged in previous movies. This time around, the spotlight falls on the two younger Pevensie kids; Peter and Susan are off living in America, so it’s up to Edmund and Lucy to help Narnia in its latest hour of need (those two were the instigators of the family anyway). Caspian returns, but now he’s King (and still played by Ben Barnes) and so do Aslan and the White Witch (but only for brief cameos, just like big bro and big sis). This time, they’ve brought along cousin Eustace, and we also focus on Reepicheep, the veteran warrior-mouse voiced by Simon Pegg (remember him from Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Star Trek). The crew of the Dawn Treader travel from island to island on a quest to retrieve a bunch of swords and bring them to the Table of Aslan.
It’s a bit disappointing that they couldn’t make more of this story. The scripts for the Narnia films are already pretty thin, with stiff dialogue and rather flat characters. Reepicheep wasn’t bad, but Cousin Eustace was insufferable as a self-important, prissy brat (reminded me of Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley, but without the thick-necked weightiness). The writers should have taken a cue from Pirates of the Caribbean creators who knew that the central premise (making a movie based on a theme park ride) was flimsy, so they came up with some wonderfully elaborate characters and stories on their own. If the Narnia creators could have just taken flight off of the C.S. Lewis original, they might have been able to produce a more-satisfying story of a crew on a magical quest. Some people take issue with the script/story also being a bit heavy-handed with the Christian allegory. It’s true that Lewis himself didn’t skimp in that regard but I can see how it did bog down the movie a bit (especially in the ending — I was having flashbacks to the interminable endings of Return of the King).
Nevertheless, there’s still enough excitement and visual fantasy to this movie that I enjoyed it. There were fewer magical creatures, but there was still a dragon, a minotaur, and a sea serpent (plus a talking mouse). The actors did a serviceable job. Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley have clearly grown up a bit from their sweeter, ankle-biting days of the earlier films. Like the many islands that they travelled through in order to get to their finale in Aslan’s country, this movie also seems like a bit of a way-station as we continue through the series of Narian movies. (I’m not sure of the fate of future films, though.) Hopefully they will get made, because I always like to see a bit more fantasy on the big screen (4 out of 5)