Surprisingly, one of my most popular articles here is Why the Voyage of the Dawn Treader will work and Disney is stupid. The key idea in it is that abandoning the franchise after Prince Caspian is simply a mind-boggling decision. Whatever the bottom line might say, the only reason to move beyond the first film and make Caspian at all is so that you get to make Dawn Treader. While all the books in the series are great reads, and are rather filled with adventure and magic, Dawn Treader (polling all the young teens I know, knew, and was) is the one that takes hold of the imagination.
In the end, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader may not quite have lived up to expectations, but it’s a fantastic ride. The dragons, merfolk, sea monsters, and the Pevensies’ take on such challenges as pacing, editing, plot decisions, and the slightly curious choice of Michael Apted as director, but the wondrous fable largely wins out.
We come to Narnia this time by way of Edmund and Lucy who are stuck living with their git of a cousin, Eustace. Much the person Edmund was not that long ago, Eustace is filled to bursting with feeling jolly good about himself, and our old friends can hardly stand the thought of having to spend more time with him. The trio are sucked into Narnia by way of a painting, and find themselves hauled aboard the Dawn Treader by King Caspian himself.
We soon learn that with things somewhat settled at home, Caspian has undertaken a quest to find his father’s seven chief supporters, who were apparently on their way to some rather dangerous islands. It turns out that a mysterious evil is growing, and our adventurers must unite a set of magical swords, held by the Lords Caspian is searching for, in order to dispel the magic and save Narnia.
Or something like that anyway. I’m not sure that it ever becomes clear what exactly is going on in the film adaptation. The crew of the Dawn Treader run into this great evil, then seek to put an end to it. Along the way they fall afoul of curious magic, dragons, general spooky things, and they even meet a star, but you’re hard-pressed to put much meaning into the various dangers, or the main evil floating out into the world from Dark Island.
While the film manages to maintain a certain sense of adventure, and is sure to be loved by those of the appropriate age-group, there is something off and somewhat off-putting about the pace, and perhaps the screenplay adaptation. Once we get a certain way in, the whole film feels a bit like we’re watching it on fast forward. Each of our smaller adventures are thrown at us at a furious pace, hardly leaving us the slightest chance to become invested before we’ve moved on. You can’t possibly get any serious “work” out of the dragon escapade, for example, before the “secret” is revealed to all, and there is a similarly small attempt at character play in any sense. You’re soon practically at a loss to remember Edmund and Lucy as distinct characters, as opposed to simply our excuse for being here, and if not for Lucy’s brief run with magical trickery, neither of them would have much in the way of noteworthy screen time.
I still think Disney was crazy for dropping the franchise, but an only slightly less crazy idea is picking it up and not doing it justice. At a very crisp 113 minutes, it’s clear that this one needed at least another 20. The material is just too big, and if you’re going to have any action (which there is a fine dose of), and still have time for any relevant dialog, you have to give the thing more time.
Still, this is largely a critic-proof film, and it deserves to be. There is some solid derring-do, marvelously magical encounters, and for all that it isn’t perfect, the film delivers a certain wonder. Though there seems little about Gorky Park, Nell, or Enigma that recommends Michael Apted, he clearly manages to deliver the best we were going to get given the limitations. It may feel as though much is missing, but we still get the key elements that spur younger audiences toward a lot of interesting questions. And after all, that’s the whole point of the books.
On a related note, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo recently named a new lion cub Aslan, and the Pevensie’s got to visit. Some have already noted that this is largely newsworthy because there was apparently a lion that was not named Aslan, such that a new lion could be named Aslan, but that’s rather beside the point. At any rate, here a couple of pictures of the very cool photo opp.