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December 18, 2010

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Movie Review – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

by HELEN GEIB

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third film in the series based on the popular children’s books by C. S. Lewis. On par with the good parts of the first film and a marked improvement over the second, Dawn Treader is the best of a decidedly uneven series.

Anyone reading this review is presumably familiar with the basic premise of the Narnia series, so I’ll skip the recap. The “our world” children in this installment are Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), the younger of the four siblings who starred in the first two films, and their bratty younger cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). After being pulled into Narnia through an oil painting of an ocean-faring sailing vessel, they surface next to the Dawn Treader, the royal ship of King Caspian (Ben Barnes). Also on board is Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg), the swashbuckling talking mouse. Adventure awaits as the Dawn Treader sails for the outer islands, and perhaps even Aslan’s kingdom at the edge of the world.

In the context of the film series, Dawn Treader is notable for the filmmakers’ discovery that their source material is Christian allegory. In the first film, the allegory played second fiddle to the magical fantasyland delights and overlong battle sequences. The second film sacrificed deeper meaning to the imperative of playing to action-minded teenage boys; although not without some superficial entertainment value, the film was essentially pointless.

The primary audience for Dawn Treader is children whose parents want to teach them about Christian values. The story is spiced with adventure, magic, sword fights, and CG creatures, but the true battle is the greater struggle against temptation. This is presented without equivocation, in terms children can easily understand and relate to. Likewise, the story’s final part teaches about death and Christian faith, and although it diverges in the details, is true in substance and spirit to Lewis’ book.

Despite the standalone plot, it would be a mistake to come to Dawn Treader without having read the first two books, or at least seen the prior films. The film’s principal weakness is that the characters’ individual stories feel curtailed- somewhat to rather badly curtailed. In particular, Edmund and Caspian’s triumph-over-temptation subplots depend very heavily on knowing their backstories. Lucy’s subplot is much closer to being self-contained within this episode, but similarly has little emotional resonance unless you already know and like her from before. Eustace’s story, closely intertwined with Reepicheep’s, is merely given less screen time than it deserves, although it is hugely appealing nonetheless.

2 1/2 stars

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Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

My review of the forgettable The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken
    Dec 20 2010

    I’m not a big Narnia fan, having never been hooked by the books as a kid like a lot of people seem to be. I did enjoy the first movie and appreciated that it addressed the Christian allegories that were the point of the books. There is certainly no glut on the market of movies that use this as a theme. I’d heard Prince Caspian lost its way, and did not see it. Based on your review, I’ll catch this movie, but later.

  2. Helen
    Dec 20 2010

    I liked The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe too. Dawn Treader isn’t a significantly better film, but it is more consistent (and the fights are kept in better proportion).

    The teaching element is stronger in Dawn Treader than the prior films (it was pretty much absent from Prince Caspian). It’s correspondingly more of a film for children. The movie looks good on the big screen, but the visuals aren’t so important that it’s a must for the theater if you don’t have kids to accompany.

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