Step 1: No need to tread lightly. The third installment to the Chronicles of Narnia definitely fairs better than the last one, Prince Caspian, but it still can’t hold a candle to the first Narnia movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Step 2: Read the story. In a nutshell, Voyage of the Dawn Treader follows Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) as they struggle living with their relatives in WWII London while their older siblings Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley) are away with the parents. Lucy and Edmund have to endure their snotty, spoiled younger cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), who thinks their talk of fantastical creatures and high adventure is a lot of bunk – until, that is, Eustace finds himself transported to Narnia, along with his cousins, via a painting hanging in their bedroom. The three find themselves on the Dawn Treader, King Caspian’s (Ben Barnes) vessel, which has set out to find seven lords banished from Caspian’s land. They must retrieve seven swords and place them at Aslan’s table, which will rid Narnia of more evil. Aslan the lion (Liam Neeson) makes an appearance, of course, as does Reepicheep (Simon Pegg), the talking rodent, who teaches the incredulous Eustace a thing or two about respecting Narnia.
Step 3: Bring back the White Witch. Now while Dawn Treader has a more adventurous, quest-like spirit than the dull Prince Caspian, there is a good reason these two films don’t hold up as well as LWW: lack of acting power. Honestly, Tilda Swinton’s White Witch was such a spectacular villain in the first installment; she is sorely missed through the next two films, even though she makes very brief appearances. Maybe that’s a problem with the Narnia stories in general – the fact that after the White Witch is supposedly deposed of, there really isn’t another antagonist that’s worthy of her awesomeness. LWW also had James McAvoy as the endearing faun Mr. Tumnus, Jim Broadbent as the mysterious Professor Kirke and Neeson as Aslan, who has a much bigger role in the first film. Unfortunately, the kid actors haven’t really gotten much better than their first go-around, with newcomer Poulter pretty much mugging through the whole thing. Barnes looks dashing and handsome, but he doesn’t have any real acting chops either.
Step 4: On second thought, don’t read the story. So, you’re left with the story, which still just seems so saccharine in these days of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Director Michael Apted is handed the reins to guide Dawn Treader into murky waters, replacing Peter Jackson protege Andrew Adamson, who directed the first two films — and Apted definitely brings a fresher take on the subject matter, especially after Prince Caspian, a LOTR: The Two Towers rip-off. I think ultimately the problem lies within the original source material itself. I understand the C.S. Lewis books are a children’s classic. I was absolutely mesmerized by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was 6-years-old and sitting in my school’s library, listening to the teacher read the book. But once you move beyond the wonderment of a young girl finding a magical land inside a wardrobe – and the adventures she and her siblings have there, vanquishing the White Witch – the stories are just not as intriguing.
Step 5: To be or not to be a sequel. We’ll see if Dawn Treader creates enough monetary momentum to make the next in the series, The Silver Chair. Be forewarned, there are two more after that.