The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader – Review

Good wholesome old-fashioned fantasy fun like the way Harryhausen used to make ’em

PG • 115 mins • 9 December 2010
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Michael Apted
Cast: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter, Skandar Keynes

Blur versus Oasis. The Beatles versus The Stones. DS9 versus B5. The Clangers versus The Wombles*. We all love a good media rivalry. But in the battle of Potter versus Narnia it looked for a while like the boy wizard had dealt the talking lion a knock-out blow.

After Prince Caspian “disappointed” at the box office (most studios would love a $400 million disappointment) Disney dropped the franchise and things seemed to be going the way of The Golden Compass (even though Narnia had kept God on its side). Then Fox stepped in, and the series was saved. Hurrah! Unfortunately for them, they picked up the challenge with the third book – the least cinematic by a long way. Dawn Treader is little more than a series of island-hopping adventures. The two younger Pevensie kids and their detested cousin are once again transported to Narnia,  where they join the crew of the ship The Dawn Treader, and do a bit of sightseeing before Aslan sends them home. It doesn’t so much build to a climax as run out of pages.

The solution? Invent a whole new plotline. Say hello to some deadly green mist and a quest for magic swords. Episodes from the book are then cleverly woven into the new story, often in quite ingenious ways.

It’s hardly groundbreaking, but after the stodgy, cluttered, overblown last couple of Potter pics this unpretentious fantasy flick feels like a nostalgic return to the glory days of Ray Harryhausen. This is less Lord Of The Rings lite, and more Jason And The Argonauts with state-of-the-art FX.

Undeniably it remains ploddingly episodic, and often seems in a rush to get to the next setpiece, but there are some great character moments, mainly thanks to some great characters (thanks, Mr Lewis!). Eustace, the new, stroppy kid forced to go to Narnia, is brilliantly played by Son Of Rambow’s Will Pouter. He fights for all the funniest lines with Reepicheep, the giant CG mouse (this time voiced by Simon Pegg). They end up making a great double act.

The film looks glorious, and truly magical – a step away from the “darker and grittier” Caspian back to the more fairytale feel of the first film, though the breathtaking climactic battle scene, with its cracking sea serpent vs dragon clash, earns the film its action stripes.

It’s slight, it’s predictable and it’s often just a little bit twee. But at its best – such as the delightful scene in which Reepicheep teaches Eustace a lesson in fencing and manners at the same time ­– the film combines humour, action, magic and quirky characterisation into an intensely appealing spectacle.

The 3D’s pretty pointless, though. You may as well just see the 2D version.

Dave Golder

(* Okay, we made that one up, but we’d like to have seen it…)