“The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, based on the 1952 novel by C.S. Lewis, is the best film of this latest franchise interpreting the fantasy series -- and the first in 3D.
The cinematography is gorgeous and the fusion of CGI (computer generated images) and real characters seamless. Even more outstanding is the script that never stalls and blends characters, plot, and themes in ways that entertain and inspire. Directed by Michael Apted, “Dawn Treader” reflects a marked departure from the style of director Adam Adamson’s approach to “Prince Caspian” (2008) that chose action over story.
Walden Media and Disney partnered for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005) and “Prince Caspian” (2008). When Disney withdrew from the current film, Twentieth Century Fox stepped up.
In “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” the four Pevensie children, Lucie (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley) are evacuated from London to the country home of a relative during World War II. Led by the youngest, Lucy, the children venture through a closet to discover Narnia. It is a parallel world where the children encounter new creatures; temptations; goodness; magic; a witch; and Aslan, who teach them and Narnians sacrificial love.
“Prince Caspian” has the four children back in Narnia, this time to help Prince Caspian regain the throne of Narnia from a usurper, his uncle King Miraz -- and prevent the extermination of the Narnians.
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Three years have passed. Peter is at university and Susan is touring America with her parents. Lucy and Edmund are staying with relatives once again, and their stuffy cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) is especially trying. The children enter Narnia through a painting of the ocean hanging on the wall. Narnia is at peace but they join Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) in finding the seven lords of Narnia and their symbolic swords. They are also tracking down slave traders who are kidnapping people from surrounding islands.
We meet Reepicheep the talking mouse (voiced by Simon Pegg) once again, who joins the voyage to find Aslan’s country far to the east. Eustace is the comic relief and his amazing transformation when everything is at stake is the high point of the film.
The analogy between “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and the Christian life is fairly obvious, especially the struggle between the urges of the seven deadly sins and the impulse of grace and virtue. The good news is that the film is greatly enjoyable as a story first of all and fine entertainment. The meaning comes in reflecting later.
The Narnia stories are about human and spiritual growth, never standing still, grace, faith, and taking action to make a difference. “Voyage”, so far, excels.
In an interview executive producer Douglas Greshem, who is also the stepson of C.S. Lewis, said that Reepicheep is “like Sir Galahad, the one pure knight who never sinned, who went straight to heaven.”
Greshem went on to say, “I am never pleased with the film interpretations of Jack’s stories because I am a purist. If the filmmakers move a comma I want to get up and scream...so I learn to compromise. One always wants to do better. But I think this version is very exciting. It is like ‘The Screwtape Letters’ for kids -- what happens when you decide to follow Jesus and start living the Christian life? Everything starts happening.”
The release of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” during Advent is propitious for families, catechists, and fans of C.S. Lewis. Be sure to stay through the credits that roll against the backdrop of the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes.
Baynes (1922 -2008) created the artwork for the entire Narnia series and came recommended to Lewis from his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Baynes was his preferred illustrator for several of his books.
The theme song “There’s a Place for Us” is sung by Carrie Underwood. “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is a film to savor.