by Richard von Busack
Shaped like the end of a trilogy (despite a proposed sequel) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader heads to its appointed port, loaded to the gunwales with a cargo of moral lessons. The beginning sets the scenes well; director Michael Apted includes scenes of the Big War in Cambridge, where workmen are tearing down the fences for scrap iron for war material. The elder Pevensies, Peter and Susan, are in America. Left behind are two younger children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), who are billeted with their hateful cousin Eustace (Will Poulter).
Inundated by an enchanted painting, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace end up bobbing in the sea right next to the Narnian navy vessel containing Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who is investigating the vanishing of seven peers of the realm. Eventually, seven golden swords have to be rescued and placed on the altar of Aslan. The shipmates encounter one-legged giants, a green mist that envelops sacrificial humans and a dragon's treasure hoard, which curses those who steal it. During the voyage, religious allegory starts to poke out. The earthling children are tempted by such of the seven deadly sins as might lure a child. Lucy desires beauty, Eustace is lured by gold and Edmund wants power.
A child, slowly getting the picture about straightening up and flying right, might be more enthralled by a particularly disgusting sea serpent. It's studded with claws inside its mucousy mantle; it gives the squeamish horror of peering at a fish's gills. There are times when the Narnia movies are as good as CGI gets. The animators challenge themselves to pose their legions of creatures under high-noon lighting, instead of disguising the flaws with half-shadows or twilight. This dragon ship of Caspian is tangible against the Maxfield Parrish–like magenta clouds.
Another plus is Will Poulter. The bad boy in Son of Rambow plays stinky Eustace, whose shirking and filching provide a welcome counterpoint to the well-bred Pevensies. Poulter is as close to a serious young actor as this series has fielded. The fencing mouse Reepicheep is voiced by Simon Pegg, instead of Eddie Izzard. This Reepicheep displays more Ronald Colman–style politesse than in the last installment. Certainly, the mouse is braver than the Holy Lion himself, who, typically, ducks out on the final fight.
If this is the end of the road for the Narnia films, it explains the finale; it's not ending-blowing to mention that Aslan coyly drops a hint of who he really is here, as if we didn't get it from the previous two films (he was martyred, raised from the dead, is able to heal the sick, etc.). I can remember reading this in childhood, and feeling like I'd been promised a trip to Disneyland only to be dropped off at catechism.