Andy Bockelman: New ‘Narnia’ entry treads shallower waters

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'

2.5 out of 4 stars

115 minutes

Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter and Ben Barnes

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

Where can you find a minotaur, a gang of bouncing, one-footed dwarves, and a kid who recites terrible poetry, all in one place?

You can search all over if you like, but you’ll only find these things collectively in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley) have had better times. Stuck living in Cambridge with their aunt and uncle while older siblings Peter and Susan (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell) get to experience the wider world, the two younger family members long for their days in the world of Narnia.

All their talk of a different, magical land amounts to constant teasing from their rotten cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), but their stubborn-minded relation isn’t laughing when the three of them step into a painting and somehow wind up in the ocean of none other than Narnia.

Picked up by their friend King Caspian’s (Ben Barnes) vessel, the Dawn Treader, Edmund and Lucy are more than ready for another adventure, though Eustace demands to be returned home to England.

But, the three of them have been called to the alternate world for a reason, namely to assist Caspian as he tracks down the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia, all the while exploring islands that have rarely been glimpsed by the people of Narnia.

Just as in the previous “Narnia” films, Henley is the heart and soul of the story as sweet-hearted Lucy, whose thirst to prove herself as the youngest of her family is greater than ever as she joins the crew of the Dawn Treader. This ambition is matched by Keynes as Edmund, who goes from trying to register to serve in World War II to being second-in-command to Caspian. Barnes is fine as well as the young king, still unsure of himself as a ruler and desperate to fulfill his task of finding his late father’s trusted advisers.

Poulter is a welcome addition to the cast as Eustace, a fussy, narrow-minded, limerick-spouting bug collector whose unceasing stream of complaints finally come to a halt when the Dawn Treader runs aground on an island that changes a person’s outward appearance into something akin to their inner personality.

Also new to the lineup is Simon Pegg, who replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep, a mouse with a taste for high adventure and the fighting skills to match. And, though he appears minimally, Liam Neeson gives another grand vocal performance as the lion Aslan, the omnipresent ruler of Narnia and all its adjoining lands.

The spirit is the same in the latest of the “Narnia” movies, even after the transfer between Disney and 20th Century Fox as distributors, overseeing the fine work of children’s film studio Walden Media.

But, even though the content doesn’t really decline in quality, there’s a noticeable difference from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian.”

Devotees of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy series will notice a considerable retooling of the storyline in both the sequence of events and the tone. Whereas the earlier installments were stories that had morals woven into them, the newest tale seems to be little more than a series of pointed, preachy lessons for our young heroes.

Lucy has to learn that she doesn’t need to look like her older sister to be worthwhile, Edmund needs to overcome his feelings of insecurity and Caspian must vanquish his fear of not living up to his potential.

Oh, and Eustace? He learns not to be greedy and selfish by being turned into a dragon. And, not a very impressive-looking one, at that.

Even the action-packed climax feels too much like the third in another series, with a battle against a sea serpent likely to remind the audience of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Stylistically, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” keeps up with its predecessors well enough, but the subtext of the narrative is much weaker. It’s still an enjoyable movie, but if you don’t have your sea legs, you may want to have some Dramamine on hand.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

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