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I was really excited when Adam Adamson exited “The Chronicles of Narnia” films. He may have done good work with “Shrek” and “Shrek 2”, but his live-action attempts at fantasy greatness were enjoyable but nowhere near the throne of glory that rightly belongs to the magnificent fantasy series by C.S. Lewis. I was excited, but “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is too soft a film — quite tragic considering it’s my favorite book in the series.
The Pevensies are ready for their third trip to Narnia, but remember what Aslan (Liam Neeson) told Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley)? No more Narnia for the older siblings, thus it’s up to Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) to help King Caspian (Ben Barnes) as he takes to the sea beyond Narnia, nearing Aslan’s country. But wait, we have an obnoxious straggler from Earth who’s quite a little twit, Lucy and Edmund’s cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter).
Three years have passed since their last visit (a nice change of pace from the hundreds of years that passed last time), and unlike the other Narnian adventures, there are no wars to fight, just the high seas to sail. Jack Sparrow step aside. Caspian must find the seven lost Lords of Narnia who were expelled from the kingdom by his corrupt evil uncle. Along the way, they come in contact with a wide array of creatures, like a sorcerer, mermaids, a talking star, a dragon and an evil being that can take any shape. And somewhere in the background is our all-too blatant Christ-figure, Aslan, guiding these young travelers through evil green smoke and sweet seawater.
I’ll give it to ‘em, “Dawn Treader” sure looks pretty. The camera lens feels like a BBC television show (by no means do I mean that as an insult) and when the digital effects kick in, they are quite stellar. Our favorite talking mouse, Reepicheep, again steals the stage, but not with the voice talents of Eddie Izzard but Simon Pegg (fair trade).
Much like “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian”, there are some enjoyable moments with grand battles, but everything just isn’t as epic or well acted as it could be. The more I watch fantasy films with child leads (Oh, “Last Airbender” how you desecrated a magnificent TV show with your horrid acting), the more respect I gain for the Hogwarts gang. Edmund, Lucy and Eustace are believable enough, but they have no chemistry.
Every attempt at humor feels like it should be followed with an emotionless chuckle reserved for courtesy laughs when the boss attempts a joke.
Rather than steal a page from “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of the Rings”, these films are far too child-centered and, quite frankly, the target demographic for them isn’t children but everyone else far older, who might have grown up with Aslan and Narnia rather than Voldemort and Harry or Edward and Bella. Sure, the Narnia stories are about children (teens and pre-teens too), but adventures like these should have an ageless appeal (just ask Pixar). Not the case here. Everything feels too trivial, and it shouldn’t.
Director, Michael Apted, seemed like a good choice to save the franchise, with a James Bond flick and 2006’s “Amazing Grace” to his name. Sadly, the production company, Walden Media, might be the common denominator here. As much as it pains me to admit this, Disney might’ve been on to something when they dropped the franchise, which Fox picked up. I love these stories but they’re not in good hands right now — a tragedy too, considering how long it took to get the rights to produce anything by C.S. Lewis (maybe “Till We Have Faces” or his sci-fi series will work out better).
“Dawn Treader” loosely sticks to the source material, attempting to change things for a more dramatic battle at the end. It all could’ve worked but everything just felt flat. Like a drama class right before lunch, the motions were all there, but it all felt like a passionless attempt to get to the end without savoring the performance.
Chances are, this will be the last adventure for Narnia. Unless they do “The Horse and His Boy”, we won’t be seeing the Pevensies for some time, and that lack of character continuity is killer for a franchise. Plus, Eustace is far too annoying, and the film doesn’t provide enough time for him to redeem himself (like the book does), thus the idea of seeing him in two more films (“The Silver Chair” and “The Last Battle”) is a tough sell.
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