Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton
Growing up becomes inevitable even for those who would prefer to stay young in perpetuity. Those pivotal moments become evident where one needs to grow up, which the final two siblings discover in the third installment of the Narnia films, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Another entry to a strong franchise putting together some fun fantasy stories.
With their older two siblings living in America, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) now live with extended family and long to be reunited with their nuclear kin. After suddenly being thrust back into Narnia, they learn about a strange evil making people vanish out of thin air. Together with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), they ride in the titular ship to get to the bottom of it.
The forgotten one of the trilogy is where I found The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I never knew it existed even if I saw the first film multiple times growing up. I had a vague knowledge of the existence of Prince Caspian but it came as a surprise to know they made the third film within this fantastical world where animals speak and children can essentially be royalty. Transparently, I figured this would be a subpar installment but it proved to actually be another quality entry into this franchise. Missing the presence of Peter and Susan came in at certain points but I was pleasantly surprised to see Lucy and Edmund hold it together in a film focusing more on them. The two younger siblings get the opportunity to have their characters examined in a more thoughtful way, as they typically took the backseat in the other two films.
They both have their own personal battles on top of the larger conflict occurring in Narnia. Lucy has reached her teen years and wants to be as beautiful as her sister Susan, almost wishing she looked more like her while Edmund struggles with having a lack of power in the real world as compared to when he helped rule Narnia. Their struggles have their moments, but the film passes through them with haste because the larger story becomes more important. A mysterious green mist seemingly makes people vanish and no one knows why. They learn about some random swords that need to be collected and placed on a random table. Very basic scavenging story, but the magic of Narnia makes its way through this narrative and leaves me feeling positive about it overall. Its story structure feels distinct as compared to the previous two films in the series. Instead of meeting a variety of characters on land, the majority of this story takes place on a boat, as the heroes traverse to find the source of this evil. It allows for something different to be told, as we stay with the same characters for the majority of this adventure. The side characters and crew members do not fall into obscurity as a result and it feels more intimate even with the vast traveling happening.
As they sail to different parts of Narnia, we still get introduced to new worlds, further expanding who inhabits these areas. This film introduced the idea of people selling others into slavery. As a PG film, they do not spend much time with it but it reaches a level of darkness this film series first achieved in Prince Caspian and continued to do so here. It gets glazed over as one would expect, but it continues to show the world of Narnia not being a place where butterflies fart rainbows. Evil people inhabit these lands and must be stopped just as the heroes set out to do.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader follows in the tradition of showing the natural and fantastical beauty the world of Narnia has. The different creatures demonstrate the magic and how they can manage to live in harmony. Even if we’re stuck on this boat for a majority of it, the inherent beauty of the place remains prevalent throughout. It proves the difficulty of making solid fantasy films and this feature certainly lands in this category even with its flaws. A capper of a trilogy, which had the potential to be a fluttering finale but managed to wrap everything up in a thoroughly emotionally satisfying manner. Each of the Narnia films had their highs and lows, but they also had moments where the core of the story shines through its characters. The glimpses we see in this feature make everything else worth it.