As with the “Harry Potter” series, I feel it is best to open with an admission. I have never read any of the C.S. Lewis books, although I have more than a dim awareness of the Christian allegorical nature of Lewis’ adventures. Fantasy novels paved the foundation of my experiences as a young reader, but the closest I came to the classics of the genre were Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” upon which, I naively surmised, everything else was based. Part of my resistance to “The Chronicles of Narnia” (and more recently “Potter” mania) was rooted in the idea that I didn’t care for heroic children, so as an adult critic, I have labored mightily to suppress this bias.
And now comes the third installment of the tale of “Narnia,” which bears the additional cross of diminishing returns. The first film (“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”), a Walden Media/Walt Disney production earned nearly $300 million at the domestic box office, but the follow-up “Prince Caspian” was so underwhelming ($141 million domestic) that Disney filed for divorce, leaving Walden to go a-courting for another partner. Fox signed on, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for the duo, especially for a film hitting screens on the heels of the first part of the “Potter” finale.
Here, the Pevensie clan has been whittled down to Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Eustace (a quite game Will Poulter), a prissy cousin who happens to be a terribly reluctant Narnia newbie. Advancing adulthood and the realities of distance and the ongoing war (WWII) prevents the older siblings from venturing to the magic realm. Without much warning though, the trio find themselves in a great sea as the Dawn Treader approaches. The Treader is the official great ship of their friend Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) who is journeying to collect the seven swords from his father’s long-lost allies in order to secure the safety of Narnia.
Along the way, Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace must face and overcome individual fears and insecurities, while battling in conjunction with minotaurs, mice and men against sea dragons and an ominous green mist. While the battles are gloriously rendered with spectacular action and a stunning lack of blood (befitting the PG rating), the action is secondary. Instead, director Michael Apted (of the fantastic “Up” series) embraces the spirituality in the Lewis text without coming off as a fire and brimstone preacher. He presents the real journey as the one each of the leads must take to discovering themselves.
That, ultimately, is the same lesson, which has not authentically touched me throughout the “Harry Potter” series, until “Deathly Hallows (Part I),” but audiences have been enamored with all things wizards and horcruxes. In the end, this doesn’t bode well for the continuation of this live action “Narnia” series, but I’m not ashamed to admit that this “Voyage” may have made a bit of a believer out of me. (tt stern-enzi)