For a while now, people have been speculating if the Narnia franchise has what it takes to fill the void left by the imminent end of the Harry Potter series. With The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the answer is obviously, ‘no’. But the Pirates of the Caribbean series should watch its back.
The third installment of C.S. Lewis’ seven-book masterpiece picks up right where Prince Caspian left off. World War II is still raging, and siblings Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are staying at the home of their snivelly cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), while their elder siblings Susan and Peter are off studying in America.
Before long they find themselves back in Narnia (courtesy of a painting this time, rather than the mythical wardrobe). There, they hop on board the good ship Dawn Treader, which is piloted by none other than Caspian (Ben Barnes) himself.
After a few days at sea, they learn their quest—to collect the seven swords of the Lost Lords and place them on Aslan’s table. Of course, being Narnia, that’s easier said than done; along the way, they confront invisible trolls, temptations, magic spells, and a freaky green mist that makes folks disappear.
The visual effects (and 3D-ness) of Dawn Treader are better than average, including some pretty mesmerizing trickery at a mansion on one of the islands. Director Michael Apted (taking over for Andrew Adamson) keeps the action going with plenty of swordplay, and the script by Narnia vets Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is surprisingly chock-full of humor and heart.
Boys (and girls) from 8 to 14 will have a ball with this one. While Dawn Treader lacks the full-scale battle scenes that made up such a huge part of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Price Caspian, it makes up for it with plenty of new swashbuckling adventures, including a particularly edge-of-your-seat confrontation with a gnarly sea monster. You almost expect Captain Jack Sparrow to show his face at any moment.
And while the addition of the highly annoying Eustace doesn’t come close to filling the void left with the absence of Susan and Peter, other old favorites are back, including mouse warrior Reepicheep (this time voiced by Simon Pegg) and the almighty Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson).
Overall, Dawn Treader isn’t nearly as deep or intense as Harry Potter, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s still a perfectly fine evening (or matinee) of entertainment.