Our Rating: 5 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Movies about magic were forbidden in my house when I was a child. And then my father discovered C.S. Lewis and the world of Narnia was opened to me. Going to see a Narnia adventure on the big screen is for me always a monumental event.
It has been several years since the children's last adventure in Narnia, but Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) have not forgotten that they were once king and queen of the distant land. Stuck living with their logical, spoiled, and downright rude cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), the siblings are almost relieved when the portrait in Lucy's room begins to spill water all over the floor! In an instant, they along with Edmund are swept into the seas of Narnia and pulled on board the Dawn Treader. King Caspian (Ben Barnes) and his men are on a quest to discern the whereabouts of seven lost lords, but when an island adventure goes amiss, they discover that the outer islands of Narnia are being threatened by a sinister mist that threatens to envelop them all. With a grumbling Eustace in tow, and their daring mouse friend Reepicheep (Simon Pegg) eager for battle, they are off on another adventure to preserve Narnia, little realizing they will all confront their darkest fears, and hoping to meet the great lion Aslan (Liam Neeson) along the way.
C.S. Lewis is one of the writers I most admire and as a child I spent numerous hours lost in his books. I would even venture to say that Aslan was instrumental in shaping my view of my lord and savior. These films are not altogether true to the source material yet they accomplish what matters most to me as an individual and that is to take me into Narnia and bring scenes and characters from my imagination to life. I think the casting is perfect, the imagination and creativity behind the unique set designs and even the subtle nods toward Aslan in "our world" are magical, and that the essence of Lewis still profoundly shines through. This film has everything one could want in an epic adventure -- storms, dragons, spells, cursed treasure, kidnappers, magicians, ghosts, and... Eustace. One of the most irritating characters in literature has become one of the most hilarious brats ever to grace the big screen. He is absolutely the best thing about the film, which makes it even more special because at its heart, this story is about more than a grand adventure, it is about Eustace's journey toward redemption and how it differs from Edmund's in the first film.
Fans of the books are going to nitpick details ... why do we need a battle with a sea serpent? Why do we need a quest? What was wrong with the way Lewis wrote it? In my opinion you can spend too much time complaining to be grateful for what you are given -- a beautiful cinematic experience that will resonate in different ways with everyone who sees it. For me, two lessons in particular stood out -- Lucy struggling to love and accept who she is rather than desiring to be her sister instead, and Eustace's transformation into a hero. There are many good lessons contained here about friendship, courage, forgiveness, repentance, and salvation. Some of them are more obvious, others profound for their subtlety -- and where children may not grasp the full ramifications of the important scene on the shores of "Aslan's country," adults will affected by it. No, it is not a literal translation but it maintains the messages Lewis was imparting and for me, that matters the most. Lewis was a tremendously humble man, a great man, and this film represents the spirit of his books very well. Certain of the plot points are borrowed from the next book in the series, The Silver Chair, but done in such a way that another film is possible if this one is successful.
Some things that might frighten very young children are a moderate amount of violence and some scary sequences. There are several skirmishes with non-graphic fighting in them of the sort you might expect from a fantasy film; a longer sequence midway through has a dragon being bombarded with arrows and swords (none of them hurt him at the time); the ship is almost crushed by an evil sea serpent and they stab it repeatedly, before ramming it against a rock. Various characters are knocked unconscious; a dragon is wounded badly with a sword. There are quite a few scenes with "magic" in them -- Lucy reads from a book of spells and creates snow, as well as lifting a spell that makes things invisible; she is later tempted to read another spell (all the spells are mere rhymes) and change her appearance, but Aslan prevents it. Cursed water turns things into gold; the children find three men under an enchantment.
Humor, sensitivity, and some truly beautiful moments between Aslan and the children make this film memorable even if I do question minor decisions on the part of the filmmakers (the directing style seems a bit odd at the start, but settles in once the children reach Narnia). There has been quite a bit of controversy in the news of late about what the series represents to different people who have worked on the project, but it is my belief that when a Christian author intends a book to be a reflection of their faith, not even attempts to water it down can prevent the messages from being evident. Although the allegorical aspect is not as obvious as in the first and most popular film, the spirit of Lewis' work remains intact -- and with it, one of the most profound theological minds of the last century. It is a film I think that will delight children and adults too -- if as Lewis would say, we are "grown up enough" to understand it.