The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Review
When the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe released back in 2005, anticipation for the children's fantasy series by C.S. Lewis seemed to place it as the next major film franchise. Unfortunately, while the first film remains a critical and commercial success, the second in the franchise, Prince Caspian, struggled with some uneven pacing and a darker approach.
It's some wonder that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader even made it to theaters in the first place. Disney, who co-produced the first two films in cooperation with Walden Media, walked out on the film. Fox picked it up, but for a while it didn't look like the franchise was going anywhere. But here we are, Dawn Treader is out on open waters, and we the viewing masses get to see if this ship sinks or swims.
Now, I don't want to toot my own horn, but I consider myself pretty proficient in Narnian lore. Growing up, it was one of a few popular fantasy franchises I was allowed to read, so instead of ignoring the genre entirely, I threw myself into the series. Thus, while The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe acts as the introductory to the world of Narnia, and Prince Caspian was more of a traditional fantasy war story, Dawn Treader is a straight up swashbuckling, seafaring adventure flick. Gone are the drawn out battle scenes and mildly dark elements. Instead, Dawn Treader is more about a journey and the discoveries that it brings. It's a fairly episodic experience too, as every scene brings a new island to explore and magical things to discover.
And that's what could have been a serious problem with Dawn Treader. In the books, there is very little in a primary antagonist. While the children Lucy, Edmund, and their bratty cousin Eustace, as well as Caspian, now king, have adventures on successive islands, there is no real force that is chasing the characters forward. In the book, the feeling of discovery is all that is needed to drive the plot, and the reader is still left with a very satisfactory ending because we discover the world as they do.
In the film version, this could have been a major problem. While our cast of characters have a very general goal of going to the end of the world, the plot gains direction with the addition of an ambiguous and evil green mist. Mentioned in the book as a mist that creates the greatest fears and accounts for little more than one island adventure, this foreboding force is stretched out as the primary antagonist that must be stopped by our heroes. Fans of the books may have difficulty with this fairly substantial refocus in the film, but it does make for a better movie.
And when we come down to it, it is very much an enjoyable film. While Prince Caspian felt too dark, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a return to form for the wonder and discovery of the first film. It's a swashbuckling film, with sword fights, dragons, magical pools of water, slavery, and more, and it's not bogged down by fantasy politics. Dawn Treader is a fun film, and for those who may find the last Harry Potter film to be too dark and dreary, this is a great film to transition to. This is, after all, a children's story, and while elements of jealousy, regret, and female body image issues are all brought up and addressed, they are quickly dealt with leading up to the feel good ending.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader can attribute much of it's charm to two of its child leads, Georgie Henley as the exuberant Lucy, and Will Poulter as her arrogant cousin Eustace. Henley is delightful (as she has always been) as the sweet and gentle Lucy, but she is almost overshadowed by Poulter, who performs arrogant and irritating perfectly. Anyone who knows the franchise knows that Eustace is the next major character, and should Fox and Walden decide to make future films, Poulter will have to become a face of the franchise. However, for now, with his odd, pug-nosed look and grumpy way of talking, he's a perfect version of Eustace.
Those who don't know the stories of Narnia might find The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to be a little...nonsensical. After all, every fifteen minutes, some weird and unexpected happenstance occurs, and sometimes it comes across as just silly. However, let these moments wash over, and the film is a highly enjoyable and gentle fantasy film. Great for kids and families, those looking for an exciting fantasy film would do themselves a favor should they check this out.