It's that time again when all the big fantasy films of the year come out just in time for the holidays. This year the youngest of the Pevensie kids return to the magical world of Narnia in the third installment of the franchise, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, based on the C.S. Lewis classic novels The Chronicles of Narnia. The book itself, which is arguably the fan favorite, poses unique challenges for screenwriters Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni. The dialogue is witty and thoughtful in some respects and there's a certain sense of wonder in director Michael Apted's earnest approach to the movie, but the book involves a long seafaring adventure with a vague narrative and no major villain to speak of, so the film version of the story consequently lacks momentum and enough action to keep the audience fully engaged.
This time around, Lucy and Edmund (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes), the youngest of the Pevensie children, go to live with their cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter) while their parents are abroad. The children return to Narnia, which has been at peace for a number of years, through a picture of a ship on choppy waters hanging on the bedroom wall and find themselves on Prince Caspian's ship, the Dawn Treader. Caspian (Ben Barnes) vows to find the seven lost lords of Narnia, while the fearless talking rat Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) hopes to find Aslan's country beyond the sea. Lucy and Edmund decide to join Caspian on his adventure on the high seas, sailing from island to island and encountering everything from slave traders to magicians to sea monsters.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader really ups the ante as far as special effects for this franchise are concerned. The detail and precision that have gone into creating this world make for exciting, beautiful, and artistic visuals, especially during the climax of the film, in which the crew of the Dawn Treader fights a pretty scary-looking sea monster. However, the pacing seems really off, particularly during the moments in the movie when there should be some action, but the action we do get feels a little off-kilter.
Even though the film centers around Edmund and Lucy (and to a lesser extent Prince Caspian), the true protagonist of the movie is their snarky little cousin Eustace, played brilliantly by Will Poulter. Eustace has the most obvious arc in the film, at first spouting indignantly and cowering at every turn, then later evolving into a brave warrior. He undergoes the most obvious and profound changes, both figuratively and literally, and Poulter's take on the character is a joy to watch.
Regardless of the popularity of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- the first installment of the franchise -- Prince Caspian was met with little enthusiasm. Despite a valiant effort, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader may mark the end of the Narnia franchise, not to mention the fact that it will have to battle with such fantasy behemoths as Harry Potter. Nonetheless, true Narnia fans will surely flock to this film and enjoy the delightful fantasy adventure.