The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader continues the tale of Lucy and Edmund, the two younger children of the quartet that we started the journey with, now slightly more grown up (there's a bit where Edmund is trying to pass off as an adult to enlist in the Army), with varying degrees of success. As a film for children, it is uncomplicated and as every good fairy tale should, has a good yarn to tell, and thrillingly so. As a blockbuster entertainer, and indeed as a fantasy film, it lacks a certain charm, and the calculated direction seems more Scrooge than Santa.
Fans of the books have probably given up since the second film, where the focus was an all out war between Good and Evil (the books, non-believers, have always been about the quaintly magical, and a sense of wonder. Big action set pieces were Tolkien. Lewis was all wonder, fun and religious allegory). The third film does not disappoint on that note by being a CGI heavy adventure film with focus on battle sequences and a particularly "item" showdown between a mouse and a dragon.
In 1943 England, as the war rages on, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie and their boorish cousin Eustace are once again transported to Narnia, this time straight to sea, and rescued by the Dawn Treader, a vessel commandeered by King (then Prince) Caspian. As old friends meet, they dovetail into one adventure after another, including rescuing village folk from a curious mist that takes them away.
There are a fair bit of fights and punch-ups, and more than a little pandering to the cutesy market by Reepicheep (the aforementioned mouse, voiced by Simon Pegg) being given outstanding moments. Aslan makes a cameo or three, and we are well on our way to generic fantasy land by the second act.
To its credit, the generic fantasy mush that is the script of the film isn't exactly tiresome. There are still Lessons to be Learned, and Inner Battles to be defeated, but it isn't much to go on, and I dare anyone to remember the exact sequence of events 2 weeks after they've seen the film.
The adventure heavy tone of the film gives a lot of room for the crew to pile on as much CGI as they want, which is indeed plentiful. However, despite the technical achievement, the directorial achievements are few. The CGI is quite impressive but it lacks the sense of wonder that the Harry Potter films (which these films are clearly trying to emulate) carry.
It is important to note that while the CGI may lack charm and a deft touch, and while the story is generic, the momentum of the film is constantly narrative propelled. As the 3 children defeat their inner doubts, the film moves forward. It's a simple construct to hang your direction on, but at least it works.
Which is what really the film is about - it works. Despite the shortcomings in the plot and the direction, the charm of the various actors (live or voice) and the fast moving pace make the film entertaining in and by itself, if not memorable. It's a shame then, that a fantasy film based on one of the most beloved stories about the magical, lacks a certain magic.