Lucy (Henley) and Edmund (Keynes) Pevensie are back in Narnia, this time with their objectionable cousin Eustace Scrubb (Poulter). They join their old chum Caspian (Barnes) on the Dawn Treader, voyaging beyond Narnias seas to search out seven lost Lords.
Thanks to its snow-hugged setting and Santa cameo, first Narnian excursion The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe felt perfectly Christmassy. Which is part of the reason why the dollars it made for Disney back in the winter of 2005 were so much bigger than those of its follow-up, Prince Caspian, released in summer and set in more temperate climes. Unlike Warner’s hugely successful but repetitive Potter — which Disney hoped it could match — CS Lewis’ Chronicles aren’t set to a template. Each entry finds its own distinct tone, even if they share characters and a religious undercurrent.
Yet if Caspian felt slightly detached from Wardrobe, third installment The Voyage Of The Dawn treader (placing Narnia back in its Christmas-release niche) is leagues away. We now have a new studio — 20th Century Fox entering the Lion’s den after the Mouse scampered off — and a new director, British veteran Michael Apted replacing Andrew Adamson. Only two of the Pevensies are back (save a few cameos from the others), and the better two at that. And Caspian (Ben Barnes) has, in his ascension from Prince to King, completely, inexplicably lost his Spanish accent. Perhaps he was seeing a speech therapist.
The film is also very obviously shorter, clocking in at under two hours, despite all the additions (some entirely unnecessary) to the book’s loose plot. This isn’t in itself a problem, but the story does feel rushed rather than strenghtened — a shame as it is, with its island-hopping voyage structure, inherently episodic. So we tack hurriedly from slave-trader ravaged towns, to twisted-topiary gardens inhabited by invisible, one-footed dwarves (!), to desloate, treasure-strewn desert islands, to the shadow-drenched “Dark Island” where nasty things lurk within the film’s bad guy surrogate: some green mist.
Apted, though, proves a steady hand, and as those who know and love the book might have hoped, this is more about big monsters than talking animals, just like the good old, daft Sinbad movies of our youth. Only much less sexy. So we have some antics involving a dragon and an impressively immense sea serpent. It is all in 3D, but you won’t really notice beyond the extra weight on your nose; it’s sadly more Clash than Avatar.
One final change worth noting: the addition of Son Of Rambow’s Will Poulter, as Edmund and Lucy’s priggish cousin, Eustace. He is far and away the best child actor yet cast in the series, and it’s reasurring that, should Fox greenlight next instalment The Silver Chair, it’s he who will be the only kid returning.
Another mixed Narnian offering which, while it doesnt bust through the series three-star ceiling, at least gives us its best FX, biggest monsters and finest child actor yet.