"We have nothing if not belief," says a character in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (Fox).
And, indeed, with its youthful protagonists confronting forces of darkness both within themselves and around them, this screen version of the third in C.S. Lewis' classic series of Christian-themed allegorical novels—a mix of live action and animation—keeps the need for faith front and center.
A murky backstory and slightly sketchy plot, though, make director Michael Apted's addition to the franchise—which began with 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and continued with "Prince Caspian" in 2008—somewhat less impressive dramatically than thematically.
The opening scenes, set in World War II-era Britain, find brother and sister Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley)—two of the four original human visitors to Narnia—lodging with relatives, including their obnoxious, cynical cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter).
Resentful at having to share his room with Edmund, Eustace, as the facts-only embodiment of modern rationalism, also sneers at his cousins' tales of travel to a magical kingdom. So it comes as a surprise when a seascape painting hanging on the wall suddenly floods the boys' bedroom, and the tide carries all three children off to Narnia's Eastern Sea.
Saved from drowning by their old friend, Caspian (Ben Barnes), now the king of Narnia, the siblings are delighted to be reunited with him aboard the "Dawn Treader," pride of the kingdom's fleet. They've arrived at an opportune time, since Caspian is in the midst of a quest to vanquish a menacing manifestation of evil that takes the form of a green mist capable of making its victims disappear.
It's here that the exposition in Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni's script begins to feel a little burdensome. Suffice it to say that the siblings—and, more reluctantly, their traveling companion—agree to join Caspian on his mission.
This eventually requires them to bring together at the table of the noble lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson)—Narnia's spiritual lord whose redeeming death and resurrection are recounted in Lewis' first volume and in the first film—seven magical swords empowered to protect the land from harm.
During the adventures that ensue, Edmund and Lucy battle temptations ranging from vanity and envy to ambition, greed and cowardice. Meanwhile, helped along by the wisdom of one of Caspian's sidekicks, plucky warrior mouse Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg), Eustace endures an unwelcome physical transformation which ultimately leads him down the path toward a far more positive spiritual conversion.
Richly cargoed with Gospel-based moral lessons and Christian overtones, this swashbuckling sequel, despite its occasionally rocky progress through the waves, bears viewers on an enjoyable, and mostly kid-friendly, voyage.
The film contains considerable peril and bloodless violence and a couple of mild bathroom jokes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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