The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

A moralistic adventure shines through evil fog in this allegorical fantasy.

Edmund and Lucy (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley: the prior two Narnia movies) are feeling pretty miserable. While the rest of the Pevensie family is off in America, these two are hunkered down with insufferable cousin Eustace (Will Poulter: Son of Rambow) — a know-it-all, curmudgeonly, 10-year-old —  in wartime Oxford. The twerp’s about to get it when a painting floods the room and the three kids surface in Narnia before the bow of the royal ship Dawn Treader. Plucked from the waves by King Caspian (Ben Barnes: Dorian Gray), the three embark on a quest into Narnia’s oceanic frontier to find and extinguish festering evil. And, perhaps, push on to Aslan’s country beyond.

The faith-informed fantasy is the third movie adapted from Christian theologian C.S. Lewis’ seven-book series. Underlying religious theme remains intact in the Hollywood conversion. The heroes are tempted and challenged by their darkest fears and wishes as brought to surface by a fell mist. 

Lewis’ religiosity as presented here sometimes raps you over the head with a church program. Particularly concerning Eustace, a haughty wart of a skeptic who refuses to accept fairy tales even when he’s immersed in the thick of Narnia. He eventually has a direct encounter with the Messiah lion Aslan, who burns him with righteous fire and resolves him as a decent person. Not exactly subtle.

For the most part, though, it’s a basic adventure with a dusting of morals. Story strides foward without much worry given to setup or character development. But there is a lot of neat-o scenery and plenty of new creatures. Action clatters happily along for the excitement of younger fans, offering up noise and derring-do without becoming too violent. Heroes and villains both play to types rather than character for efficiency’s sake, providing simple but workable conflict.

All takes place in a finely rendered setting with finely rendered characters, all bright and fantastic and Narnian. The 3D experience isn’t worth the bother, though. There’s little added depth in the gimmick, and frankly the 2D looks better.

In sum, this movie is essentially a backyard play by creative kids with an awesome prop stash and a crack special effects team. Not grade A entertainment, but it may win as a matinee with the family.

Fair fantasy • PG • 115 mins.