The Narnia series had, in my opinion, a fantastic start with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I haven’t read the books but the film was a gorgeous production with a coherent story (unlike most Harry Potter adaptations), an exuberant spirit and loads of heart. It provided us a magical new world with characters we could care for. Prince Caspian was an adequate and yet, in every way, underwhelming follow up which was too dark, too dull to enjoy the same kind of reception. The film was weaker both, visually and as a story. However, when Andrew Adamson who helmed the first two films, was replaced by Michael Apted, I was even more skeptical as his only film I have seen is one I have disliked with some intensity (The World Is Not Enough). However, I was pleasantly surprised with this one.
The premise: Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are now teenagers who are living a mundane life in the middle of the War with their Uncle Albert and irritating cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) while Peter and Susan are in the US with their parents. They find themselves called into Narnia once more, this time with Eustace and find themselves on the Dawn Treader, the finest ship in Narnia in the company of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and Narnian sailors. But there is no war going on this time. Instead, they are on a voyage to investigate into the fate of seven warriors who supported Caspian’s father before his death. What starts out as a simple voyage becomes a quest against something far more sinister that threatens the new established peace in Narnia.
Although the third instalment still falls short of the standards set by the first film, it is an improvement over Prince Caspian in every way. Visually, it is stunning, not just in terms of the scale of production but also in terms of the imagination. The film has an epic look in that classic way and considerable imagination has gone into creating the worlds. Several moments in the film are simultaneously terrifying and awe-inspiring.
In terms of story also, it is far more enjoyable a tale with the right mix of humour and drama, good and evil, swashbuckling action and magical fantasy. What I particularly liked in the film is that the way the human relationships were handled. Characters were better developed and each relationship signified a different theme. In Eustace and his relationship with Reepicheep, the film explores what it means to live for something more than yourself and finding courage in the most difficult of circumstances. In Lucy, we see the importance of self-worth and individuality. In Edmund, we see the struggle to understand what it means to be a man. In his relationship with Caspian, we have the exploration of what it means to be a brother. These are themes and ideas that both, kids and adults can engage with. These are dealt with simplistically, but well (at least considerably better than Prince Caspian) It is endearing to see the growth of Lucy and Edmund as characters, more so than Peter and Susan’s.
Ultimately, Voyage of the Dawn Treader falls short by a margin in matching up to magic of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. However, it is a vast improvement over Prince Caspian, in every department and makes for a thoroughly entertaining fare for people of all ages. It is an epic film with a marriage of scale, content and spirit that has become seriously rare in American productions.