It’s fair to say that part three of the Narnia franchise at least arrives with an air of freshness about it: new director (Michael Apted), new studio (Fox), new composer, new cinematographer and new voice for warrior-mouse Reepicheap (Simon Pegg, riffing on Basil Brush).
Nothing, it seems, was sacred in attempting to re-boot after the underperforming Prince Caspian. It’s back to Narnian basics here: enchanting critters, gorgeous production design and fairytale landscapes.
Even the Pevensies have been cut down to size, the elder two (now in America, per the book) relegated with Tilda Swinton to dream-sequence cameos.
Dawn Treader is also back on message with C.S. Lewis’ Christian piety. Claiming it’s there only if you want to find it, as the filmmakers did prior to release, is a bit like saying you can see Dannii Minogue’s had botox (allegedly) only if you look closely.
With characters spouting religi-tastic lines like “We have nothing if we don’t believe” and “In your world, I have another name…” (ta, Aslan), it’s underlined in heavy letters.
For those who don’t want to tap into Dawn Treader’s devotion, Apted does deliver on the Odyssey riffs of Lewis’ novel (tweaked and supplemented).
Episodic? Very – a high-seas, island-hopping adventure in which Caspian (Ben Barnes), now Narnia’s king, is steering the titular vessel to find the seven lost lords of Telmar and reclaim their swords.
Into his oceanic path drops Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and their hideous pipsqueak cousin Eustace (Son Of Rambow’s Will Poulter, operating at a hysterical pitch of snivel but let down by the script’s humour shortage).
The threat is nebulous (some barely referenced blather about evil stealing Narnia’s light if the swords aren’t blah blah blah), the Pevensie kids as stilted as ever.
But between slave traders, magical maps, cockney minotaurs, one-legged hobbity things, a simpering dragon and a terrifying sea serpent that may elicit watery reactions of all sorts from delicate under-10s, Dawn Treader defiantly avoids being a yawn spreader. Mission accomplished.
Never thought we’d say it, but Voyage Of The Dawn Treader injects just enough oomph back into the limping kiddie-adventure franchise to make us almost wish for Narnia No. 4. Almost.