If you want pure fantastical delight then you could do a lot worse than this latest trip to Narnia, though this time it isn’t the House of Mouse leading the way. Disney dropped the franchise, claiming the box office receipts for Prince Caspian were not high enough to tempt them back into the wardrobe once more. So 20th Century Fox and Walden Media have put together this superb third instalment, and it’s as if the franchise has never been away. This is a wonderful adaptation, faithfully recreating C.S. Lewis’s gift for bringing childish wonder to life. It’s also the most openly religious film yet, making clear biblical parallels between Aslan and another big powerful guy we’ve all heard of; the type of stuff that was present in the source text but wasn’t plundered too deeply in the Disney movies.
The Pevensie children are almost grown up now, and Susan and Peter have gone to America whilst the Second World War rages on. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) have to stay with their obnoxious cousin Eustace in Cambridge (an absolutely splendid Will Poulter, doing a lot better here than he does in E4’s ghastly School of Comedy series), but find their way back to Narnia with the help of a striking painting depicting a mythical ship making its way across a swirling sea. Once back in the land they once ruled, the two remaining Pevensies are reunited with Caspian (Ben Barnes, dropping the odd accent he adopted for the last film). He is sailing said mythical ship – the ‘Dawn Treader’ of the title – with a large crew in order to find seven lords his cruel Uncle Miraz banished to the Lone Islands; a cluster of sparsely inhabited islands in the Narnian seas. By finding these lords, he can claim back their enchanted swords and defeat an evil eerie green mist that makes one’s worst fears a reality. Part of Caspian’s crew includes the adorable Reepicheep, the talking mouse whose back-story could make a film all of his own. This time he is voiced by Simon Pegg who, although not bad, doesn’t have the loveable energy Eddie Izzard’s tones lent him in the previous film.
Although it hardly contains the frightening power of The Lord of the Rings films, this instalment in the series does have some surprisingly scary moments, including a magnificently created CGI sea-serpent. There is also a rather unsettling scene where Lucy wishes to be as beautiful as her sister, therefore becoming her and erasing herself from history. It’s a small part in the film, but still hauntingly effective, and also gives William Moseley and Anna Popplewell a chance to reprise their roles as the older Pevensie siblings.
The heavy-handed acting-school-esque performances from the younger actors do take some getting used to, but once you’ve bought into the Narnian world the film is an absolute joy. It has been reported that both Liam Neeson (the voice of the most biblical character, Aslan) and Her Majesty The Queen shed some tears during some of the more emotional scenes when attending the premier in London. I can’t say I blame them, as the closing moments, when we say goodbye to some of the characters forever, are some of the most heartbreaking of the series so far.
It isn’t perfect, and the script could do with a bit of tidying, but overall this is a sumptuously realised, beautifully captured fantasy adventure, wonderfully giving one of Lewis’s best books the big-budget Hollywood treatment without dumbing down. Some may find the religious messages towards the end of the film a tad controversial, but they are in keeping with the spirit of the novels, and add a layer of depth to the film that could have been easily exorcised. This is probably the most fun you’ll have at the cinema this winter. Don’t miss it.
Good: Enchanting and magical throughout. A true joy.
Bad: Some ropey acting from the kids at times, but nothing too dire.