The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Lost lords and magical swords, the kids will find an escape in the third instalment of the Narnia franchise

The third film in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise - based on the series of books by CS Lewis - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a weird beast indeed. Vastly superior to the life-sappingly drab second instalment Prince Caspian (2008), but still faintly disappointing in both structure and execution, it remains an oddly unfulfilling movie experience on many fronts.

Superficially the final link in a CGI engorged children’s adventure series it is, given the quality of the source material being plundered, strangely disjointed and bland. Perhaps part of the blame for that can be placed at the well-heeled feet of contemporary children's fantasy franchises like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and similar quest obsessed efforts. In a world where teenage wizards have wrung every possible fantasy flannel dry several sequels ago, it’s easy to think of the Narnia series as little more than an anaemic relative struggling to catch hold of its successful cousins coat tails.

That niggling sense of underachievement aside, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader isn’t actually a bad film. Professing to be an adaptation of the third Narnia book, it is actually a mish mash of several volumes, but all the essential ingredients are firmly in place. The oft derided Christian allegory, the children’s escape to a magical world of lost lords and magical swords and the talking Lion with the voice of Liam Neeson are all present and correct.

This time round, though, the older children have outgrown Narnia and the focus turns instead to Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Lucy (Georgie Henley) and their obnoxious cousin Eustace (Son Of Rambow star Will Poulter) as they head out to sea on the Dawn Treader with Caspian (Ben Barnes) in search of, well... lost lords, magical swords and an evil green mist heavy with Christian allegory.

Like Edmund in the previous films, Eustace is the annoying figure at the heart of proceedings and the character most likely to lead the children into serious danger. Poulter plays the part perfectly and cranks up the irritating posh boy act ruthlessly. The result is that he steals just about every scene he graces, but as he bonds with the talking rodent Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) we see another side to him beyond the babbling buffoon.

More than anything, however, this is a coming of age fable about young Edmund, and fans of Freudian analysis will have a field day with the youngster’s twin anxieties about his older brother and the suppressed desire he harbours for the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). When Eustace describes the journey into maturity with the line 'It sort of hurt but it was a good pain', it’s hard to suppress a childish snigger.

Much has been made in the past of the book's famous Christian subtext, with the suggestion being that the characters Lewis created were little more than thinly veiled vehicles for his old-school religious obsessions.  Dawn Treader doesn’t so much add to those accusations as concretely confirm them, in your face with full 3D force. When the mystical lion Aslan suggests towards the end of the story that he is an all-seeing entity that we know by another name, in the real world it’s clear he is not talking about Bagpuss.

Directed by Michael Apted at a rollicking pace, it’s easy to forget all that heavy-handed allegory when the action comes thick and fast and the CGI shows its money on the screen. Younger viewers may well be impressed with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader while their parents shuffle uneasily in their seats. But then it’s not meant for them, is it?