The third film in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, based on the 1950s children’s novel series by CS Lewis, continues the combination of Christian allegory with the childhood fantasy of escaping reality to a magical land where the child protagonists are heroic kings and queens. This time the characters are out at sea onboard the Dawn Treader and searching for lost lords, magical swords, townsfolk sold into slavery and an evil green mist.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has let go of the less interesting older children characters, who can no longer enter Narnia, to make Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) centre stage. As Edmund is now more mature and cooperative, he and Lucy’s cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) now joins them to take the role of the annoying and disruptive character who, like Edmund in the previous films, is potentially a liability. Unfortunately, Eustace is not only annoying for the other characters but his obnoxious young-Tory-in-the-making behaviour makes him pretty annoying for the audience too. However, as his character evolves he does form a touching friendship with the gallant mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg, taking over from Eddie Izzard) who is the film’s heart and soul.
Lewis’s notorious Christian subtext makes its most pronounced appearance at the end of the film when Aslan (Liam Neeson) the mystical lion pops up to remind us all that he is an all seeing entity that we know by another name in the real world. There is also a lot of discussion about the importance of belief and when Eustace is depicted as an object for contempt, he is aligned closely with intellectualism and pacifism – two traits that are rarely popular with conservative religious doctrine.
While Lucy overcoming her jealously of her older sister’s good looks is briefly dealt with and then brushed aside, the most interesting element of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is how it deals with Edmund’s coming-of-age story. Psychoanalysts could have a field day reading into the way this film explores Edmund’s anxieties towards both his absent older brother and Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), both alpha male rivals, and the ongoing threat posed by his subconscious desire for the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), a classic seductive/dangerous monstrous feminine if ever there was one. When Edmund’s worst fears are conjured up and made physical, the self-loathing and repressed results will delight Freudian theorists everywhere (hint: it’s not a marshmallow man). However, nothing compares to the way Eustace describes the transformation that delivers him into maturity: “It sort of hurt but it was a good pain”. Wow.
English director Michael Apted has taken over from New Zealand director Andrew Adamson to deliver a film that rattles along at a much more satisfying pace than Prince Caspian (2008) but still falls far short of the promise the franchise displayed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). The Voyage of the Dawn Treader feels firmly aimed at young audiences but that’s no excuse for including so much awkward dialogue that overstates the obvious. The action is decent and the film mostly looks impressive but the end result is a film that is merely serviceable in its ability to deliver an entertaining experience.