There are two concerns I’ve always had about this film franchise. The first was that I always have a sense of hesitancy when it comes to approaching the films of the Chronicles of Narnia books. In my mind, C. S. Lewis was a very intentional Christian who is a writer as compared to J. R. R. Tolkien who was a very intentional writer who is a Christian. So I go into each movie knowing they are fantasy movies based on allegory, worried about when the movies will trip itself up by being chained to its message.
The second was that after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, none of the other books in the series equal its brand of name recognition. (From a writing standpoint, the books were written out of order, were all self-contained, the protagonists changed, so there is no compelling narrative thread that runs through them.) And after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe grossed $745 million worldwide, its sequel, Prince Caspian earned less ($419 million, though it cost more to make). This is a trend that didn’t bode well for the continuation of the franchise should The Voyage of the Dawn Treader not do well.
Luckily, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was a favorite among fans of the series. The movie just had to not screw up its adaptation.
“We have nothing if not belief.” –Reepicheep (Simon Pegg)
While World War II waged on in England, the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), go off to live with family. This includes their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), an obnoxious, perpertually obtuse, miserable complainer meant to be a source of comic relief, not constant irritation. It doesn’t take long before the three of them are swept away by a painting of a sea faring vessel and transported to the land of Narnia.
Eustace continues to annoy everyone, including a swashbuckling mouse, Reepicheep. Caspian (Ben Barnes), now king, are on an adventure to the distant Lone Islands on a Lord of the Rings-styled quest for seven swords in order to vanquish apparently the smoke monster refugee from the television show Lost.
“You doubt your value. Don’t from from who you are.” –Aslan (Liam Neeson)
The story breaks down like a series of Sunday School lessons/episodes testing the character of our heroes. Lessons spanning the need to value who you are, the perils of greed, the evils of temptations, and how we must defeat the darkness inside ourselves in order to defeat the darkness in the world.
Tempted by beauty, wealth, and power, our heroes—most notably in the journey of Eustace—are taken down a path that isn’t exactly beautiful but from which they can come out stronger for it. Eustace best illustrates the point. Unable to change himself back from being a dragon, tearing at his skin only to see his own efforts prove futile, turns to Aslan. “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it myself,” he says. Then Aslan proceeds to change him. The process may hurt, but like many painful procedures, the pain was necessary to effect transformation into his true self.
A third concern reared its head during the movie. It was as if there was an odd pacing issue with the Narnia movies. They are all prone to wander at times, unsure if they are simply enjoying the magic and whimsy of the world in which they inhabit or they are simply waiting for a compelling story to latch onto and carry the movie forward. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader attempts to solve the pacing issues and smooth over the episodic nature of the story by upping the action quotient. These random acts of swashbuckling are like the characters themselves: springing up to service the plot, not unfolding due to the plot. With the series out of name recognition and reader favorites to buoy it, the franchise may have to breakdown and church out great films to carry our hearts and imaginations.