'Narnia': Return to Average
C.S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia" is one of the most beloved series of children's books of all time.
The film adaptations, however, just don't seem to be catching on. Though well made and generously budgeted, the series just doesn't have that epic sheen, that sense of wonderment that can engross an audience and draw one into the story.
The latest, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," treads that same water, though it's also a significant improvement over the earlier entries.
For one, the kids have better honed their acting skills, having literally grown into the roles. The special effects have also improved, still retaining a fantastical quality while looking more tangible. Plus, the run time is an agreeable 40 minutes shorter than the series' previous entries.
"Dawn Treader" opens about a year after the events of its predecessor, "Prince Caspian," with young heroes Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund Pevensie (Skendar Keynes) adjusting to a life of semi-normalcy in World War II-era Britain.
Their triumphs in the magical world of Narnia are all but nonexistent in their own world. Their older siblings have since moved to America, and, as a result, Lucy and Edmund are forced to live with their snotty cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter, "Son of Rambow"), which doesn't improve matters.
But when a maritime painting springs a literal leak, filling a room with seawater, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace surface in Narnia, where they're promptly hauled aboard the royal ship, Dawn Treader.
King Caspian (reprised by Ben Barnes, inexplicably minus the Spanish accent) is searching the seas for seven missing royal lords, whose swords hold the power to stop an ancient evil from spreading throughout Narnia.
The crew must voyage toward the end of the known world, seeking the lords on various enchanted islands, each locale holding a certain temptation that could stray the heroes from their righteous path - like a pool that changes everything that touches it to gold; or a book of incantations that can fulfill one's wildest dreams.
As always, they're guided by the benevolent and omniscient lion, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson, "Taken"), but they'll need to overcome hardship on their own. Fortunately, they've got a little help from some of their little friends, including stalwart mouse knight Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg, "Shaun of the Dead," replacing Eddie Izzard), whose performance is, perhaps, the highlight of the film.
As Eustace, Poulter outshines his fellow young cast members, effectively delivering an exasperating slew of comical snobbery that hardly seems forced.
Eustace's continuing quarrels with Reepicheep, followed by their eventual friendship, is one of the more heartwarming aspects of "Dawn Treader," a return to the optimistic nature of the first film, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and a testament to director Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), considering these scenes involve a bratty kid and a computer-generated rodent.
Apted, who's directed almost every kind of movie imaginable, from "Gorillas in the Mist" to Bond adventure "The World is Not Enough," almost seemed an odd choice to helm "Dawn Treader." He is, however, a balanced choice - a trait that's been missing from the previous two "Narnia" films.
Whereas the first was overwhelmingly warm and fuzzy, "Prince Caspian" was overbearingly dark and moody. "Dawn Treader" is a happy medium.
It also marks the Pevensie kids' last voyage to Narnia for some time, and possibly audiences', to boot. Though Lewis wrote seven novels, the film series' underperformance at the box office could spell an early end. After "Lion" and "Caspian," Disney had already sold the rights to 20th Century Fox, which produced "Dawn Treader."
Given an underwhelming opening this past weekend, it'll be interesting to see whether Fox pulls the plug or simply sends "Narnia" through the wardrobe to another studio. And since this wardrobe would undoubtedly be magical, maybe the series will wind up at MGM. I mean, their mascot is a lion, after all.
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone and the Parkway Theatre in West Jefferson.