The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (review)

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Unmagical Mystery Tour

More like Voyage of the Yawn Treader, actually. Little kids will surely find this collection of fantastical geegaws enthralling — look, a talking mouse! hey, a minotaur! — but as a grownup fan of the magical and the mysterious, I was almost totally bored by this third, and perhaps most tryingly pious, installment in C.S. Lewis’s fanciful spin on Christian mythology, The Chronicles of Narnia, following on from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian
There’s a whole lotta capital-A Adventure here without a whole lotta connecting story as seemingly random cool things get tossed into a listless, if not actually unpleasant excursion around the outlying islands of the pseudo-medieval realm of Narnia. The two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skander Keynes), inadvertently escape from war-torn 1940s Britain, with their horrid cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) accidentally in tow, and journey through a magic painting this time (the magic wardrobe is nowhere in sight) to wash up on The Dawn Treader, the exploratory vessel — it’s neat-o like a Viking warship! — of King Caspian (Ben Barnes: Easy Virtue, Stardust), whom they’d met in the previous film in the series, back when he was merely Prince Caspian and their older siblings were along for the ride (Peter and Susan make only brief appearances here). Now, Caspian has some bad news for them: Narnia is at peace. There’s kinda really nothing interesting going on, no big disasters for the Earther kids to get messed up in. So they just goof around for a while — Caspian and Edmund get to have fun sword duel! rational stick-in-the-mud Eustace gets to faint at the sight of a minotaur! — waiting for trouble. Which does, invariably, find them, in the form of a mission to find the seven swords of seven lords who got lost on a mission to do something or other important to the fate of Narnia.

When the story finally does start, however, it never hangs together. There’s a magician (Bille Brown: Oscar and Lucinda) on one island who has cast an invisibility spell over the strange one-legged vaguely humanish creatures who live there, which makes for a goodly chunk of a tangent, but we never get what that was all about. The magician points them in the direction of the next bit the script — by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni — never really explicates, involving how those seven swords, once Edmund, Lucy, and Caspian find them, need to be lain upon Aslan’s table on another island in order to fix all the Bad Things that are happening, but we never understand what the heck this act is meant to do, either.

I have a terrible feeling we’re meant to just take it all on faith, just trust that this is the right thing to do and that perhaps we aren’t even meant to understand it. Because of course Aslan the lion (the voice of Liam Neeson: The Next Three Days, The A-Team) is a stand-in for Jesus, and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novels are Christian apologetics. Perhaps those in the club find the notion of blind trust, even in the face of the irrational, comforting. But it sure doesn’t make for a compelling movie.

It doesn’t help, either, that the adventures here have no heft, no emotion, and that the only truly involving characters are the talking warrior mouse Reepicheep (the voice of Simon Pegg: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Star Trek) and a dragon who enters the story literally out of nowhere (he doesn’t speak) — they have some nice moments together and separately, and are more animated than the human characters, even though they’re CGI animated. That’s not a criticism of the kids, who are fine, but of the lackluster script and the unimaginative direction, by Michael Apted (Enough), which treats what should be awe-inspiring as so prosaic that we wonder why we’re even being invited to look at it.

The postproduction conversion to 3D doesn’t help, either: it succeeds only in rendering the sweet-faced kids and the lovely landscapes creepy and fakey. It adds nothing to film… except a heftier ticket price. There’s no magic in that at all, except perhaps of the bad kind.

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