This Close to Aslan’s country – Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Reepicheep was even more enjoyable and gallant than the first time. King Caspian seems to have taken on the accent of his Narnian subjects (but my, he looks nice with that beard). And yes, Eustace is as deliciously odious as he can possibly be.

The third Narnia movie based on the books of C.S. Lewis — Voyage of the Dawn Treader — came out just in time for the Christmas season. And while it’s not as strong as its predecessor (Prince Caspian), it’s a fun film, and a nice addition to the series. As was the case with the books, it has a lighter tone than the second instalment, partly because of its episodic, adventurous nature. And I suspect that the only people who will take exception to it will be the same purists who objected to Susan’s very light flirtation with Caspian in the previous film. Or those who want to see all the Narnia movies primarily as Christian conversion tools.

The plot deviates very slightly here and there from the story in the book. (But of course, what movie adaptation doesn’t occasionally vary a plot that works fine in print but which would not work in live action?) An element is added — the search for seven swords — that helps to tie the otherwise unrelated episodes more organically to each other, but in my opinion it doesn’t detract from anything.

Some things are given less time (for example, we don’t really see [pardon the pun] the Dufflepuds after their dilemma is resolved). And other things are extended – such as Eustace’s episode (I’m being careful not to include too many spoilers here). But the fact that it lasts longer than it does in the book gives Reepicheep a real chance to shine and to reveal his noble nature. It also allows Eustace a chance to grow as a person, learning to be both courageous and giving. So I think this enhances the movie, and provides a very redemptive message.

One difference between the Narnia and the Harry Potter films is that Narnia is almost filmed in real time. As the kids grow older in the story, the actors grow older in the movies. And when they’re getting too old to play young children any more, why, those characters vanish from the story for the same reasons. We did get to see Peter once, and Susan about three times in this movie, but it was Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian who stood at the forefront this time.

Rahmandu's daugher, in Voyage of the Dawn TreaderEdmund has always been my favourite character, and I’ve loved seeing him grow up and become a responsible person over the three films. I felt he really shone in the Caspian movie, and he just keeps growing in this one. And Lucy, too, steps into the limelight in Dawn Treader, ironically as she struggles to think of herself as someone other than “Susan’s younger sister.” I felt that both of these characters reached an appropriate culmination in their swan song in the Narnia movies. And they have me really hoping that someone keeps going and makes The Horse and His Boy into a movie as well, because by then, all four actors who played the Pevensie children will be old enough to play themselves as adult kings and queens.

The one character who I didn’t think got as much development as he might have was Caspian himself. He did have moments where he learned important things, and you could see that he had become comfortable with being the leader of his people. But at the end, when he promises Aslan to try to be “a better king,” it’s hard to see quite how he wasn’t being as good a king as he should have been.

Meanwhile, Reepicheep’s yearning for Aslan’s country was first mentioned late enough that it almost seemed like an afterthought, and not that important. So that when he finally has the chance to paddle his coracle into Aslan’s country, it’s not quite the deeply moving moment that it was in the book.

I’ve seen comments from disgruntled evangelical Christians who don’t think the “Christian message” is as clear in this movie as in the book. But for those looking for a “message,” what is there is uplifting and encouraging for a wider audience. On the whole, the movie is a lot of fun and well worth seeing.

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Prince Caspian: a prince worth waiting for

I warn you: I can’t be objective about this movie. I grew up reading and rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, so seeing my well-loved stories made real before my very eyes is a thrill. Here is the word made living, beautiful flesh. The thought gives me goosebumps.

But maybe I can manage some objectivity. After seeing earlier attempts to bring The Lord of the Rings to life – one odious cartoon version springs to mind – I said for years that I’d rather nobody ever tried it, than to have someone ruin it so badly. Yet I can say, about watching Prince Caspian, that I never felt the way I did when I watched that cartoon Lord of the Rings. There was no sensation that this story was ruined and should never have been attempted. So it was probably done right, or very close to right.

I still love the casting of the Pevensie children. All four actors are capable of expressing at one moment the youthful enthusiasms, naivete, or even peevishness of kids and teenagers, and a minute later, the nobility of young kings and queens of Narnia. William Moseley in particular carries off the complex emotions of Peter – the boy who was once High King, but now must pass the torch of leadership to another and attempt a new, harder task: becoming an adult in his own unmagical world.

The person to whom he passes that torch – Ben Barnes as Caspian – believably portrays a dashing, almost fairy tale prince, yet with enough vulnerabilities and flaws that he isn’t cloying. It was an interesting choice, giving him and other Telmarines a loosely Spanish accent and culture, but it made sense, given their ancestors’ origin in our world. For the most part, Barnes pulls it off, adding an exotic edge to his character. In a way, it even augments the tension between Peter and Caspian; the Telmarine prince must seem terribly “foreign” to this very British boy, making it harder to surrender control.

The surrounding characters are also portrayed with convincing, dramatic realism, from the sly, dangerous Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), to the grumpy dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), to the deliciously over-chivalrous mouse Reepicheep, voiced by Eddie Izzard.

And speaking of Reepicheep…the special effects clearly are not included just for the “coolness” factor. You never feel that the CGI creatures – centaurs, talking mice, minotaurs etc. – are there to make you look at them; rather, they’re there because the plot demands it. Though I confess…when the trees finally wake up, and the river spirit makes an appearance…it really is spectacularly cool. (Told you I couldn’t be objective.)

One thing people wonder, given Narnia author C.S. Lewis’s evangelistic leanings, is whether his allegorical elements might become overpowering. They’re still there, in Prince Caspian, but more subtly than in the first film. In this movie, we deal with losing faith when apparently abandoned by one’s ideal, yet finding courage to fight through doubt. The faith remains directed toward Lewis’s Christ-figure, but Aslan doesn’t even appear until the end. He stands more as a symbol of hope than as a specific religious figure.

The film is definitely darker and more action-packed than the first movie, but the original story was also darker. The battle scenes demonstrate that the Narnian folk seek something very much worth fighting for.

I can think of only two things I would change in this movie. I would add more wonder and mystery to the discovery that the ancient tales of magic in Narnia were true, and to the reawakening of the powers. Lucy’s dream about the tree spirits comes close, but otherwise there is little of the loss and yearning for those ancient wonders that was there in the book.

My other change is prosaic: we hardly hear the names of the “old Narnians.” They are rarely officially introduced, so we have to rely on someone addressing them in conversation so we know their names. I had to read the closing credits to be reminded that the head centaur was Glenstorm, and the squirrel was Patterwig. But that’s a minor complaint.

On the whole, I’m as delighted as I hoped to be by this film. It was wonderful to see the story that enchanted me when I was growing up become a living, breathing thing before my eyes.