The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader had a steep hill to climb. The first two offerings were exceedingly shrug-inducing and came served with an extra heaping helping of CHRISTIAN OVERTONES. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe practically reeked of Christmas spirit and the kids playing the Pevensies were terribly bland. With Prince Caspian came a less familiar story to most people and yet even more straying from the C.S. Lewis canon. Disney took a look at the rampant problems with their first outing and decided the best way to make money was to appease to both über-Christians and teenage boys. Aslan kept showing up spouting half-Bible verses and the rest of the screen time was devoted to either training for battle or the battles themselves.
Though Caspian only brought in just over half of Wardrobe’s box office Disney, Walden Media, and director Andrew Adamson set out to make Dawn Treader anyway. But even after replacing Adamson with Michael Apted, creative differences and a feud between Disney and Walden over the budget finally pushed the Mouse House to bow out, only to be replaced by Fox. The script went through a rewrite rush job and one year later I found myself sitting in a darkened theater surrounded by the world’s most obnoxious 10 year old boys and wearing those 3D glasses that make you look like an old woman coming from an opthamology appointment. I wanted to like this movie. I came in with hopes in check but I wanted it to be good. Dawn Treader was one of my favorite of the Narnia books (The Horse and His Boy will always have my heart) I wanted it to be better than its predecessor, and it was. Yet it also wasn’t.
The movie starts at the Scrubb house. Lucy and Edmund have been dumped off with Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta and their whiny little brat of a son Eustace while their parents and elder siblings are in America doing something or other that is either so dangerous or so boring that the little ‘uns couldn’t come with. Who knows. It was only the first of many things that were brought up and unceremoniously dumped, never to be explained or spoken of again.
The kiddies are squabbling when suddenly they are swept back into Narnia. The gang’s all back: Prince Caspian is now a king a year on the throne (and has mysteriously lost his accent) and Reepicheep is still being a brave little chatterbox (only this time he’s voiced by Simon Pegg instead of Eddie Izzard). From there on out it doesn't really matter if you’ve read the books or not. The movie sticks vaguely to Lewis’ storyline but only when it seems like the writers remembered they were supposed to.
Yes, the book is certainly a challenge to adapt. It is largely episodic in nature and it's rather hard to build an emotional punch in a 2 hour movie without growing stakes or a looming threat, so I can accept veering off canon. I just wish they had been a little more inventive about it. An evil mist is inexplicably eating people—or is it? dun-dun-duuuuuh!—and the White Queen apparently has nothing better to do with her afterlife than haunt Edmund. But it’s all so familiar, the mysterious Big Bad appears out of nowhere and can only be defeated by working together. There’s nothing original here, and not enough of the book to keep the story fresh.
Overall, though, it was a fun, light adventure movie for kids. It didn’t aspire to be anything greater and, given the previews (Hell is the new Yogi Bear movie), it could’ve fallen much lower. But it seems that Fox, like Disney, still hasn’t figured out how to tell a C.S. Lewis story without either hitting audience over the head with the Bible or pandering to the rest of us who just want a good story, so, instead, they just do both at different times. The plot is cloaked in a video game-esque quest and when preaching time comes round the whole film screeches to a yawning halt. Dawn Treader is most definitely better than Wardrobe and Caspian, and that’s saying both a lot and very little.
One final note, don’t see it in 3D. Save your money. The film was shot for a regular release and wasn’t until post that they decided to puff it out to 3D. As a result there’s nothing particularly three dimensional about it. Nothing flies at the screen, you can’t really tell that there’s any shading or dimension to the images, and proportions tend to go all squidgy at inopportune moments.
One more final note that contains a few spoilers. Canon-adherents are probably not going to be pleased with what doesn’t happen with Lilliandil. Also, King Caspian tells Edmund and Lucy that his Narnian army has conquered not only the giants in the Wild Lands of the North but the southern armies of Calormene. It’s the first time those countries have been mentioned in the films, but Jill Pole also got a shout out at the very end, reinforcing the theory that if there is a fourth movie it’ll probably be The Silver Chair, which means all the Eustace you could ever want and then some. They could stick with publishing order and do The Horse and His Boy fifth, The Magician’s Nephew sixth, and The Last Battle seventh, but that’s all just pie in the sky at this stage.
Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by profession, Rob Gordon and Randal by paycheck, novelist by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare...