The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the latest offering in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series. After Prince Caspian's "disappointing" box office run, Disney washed its hands of the franchise. However, the series went under new management with Fox taking the reigns with Michael Apted (Amazing Grace) attached as director with Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley taking over as co-leads from their siblings and Ben Barnes reprising his role as Caspian. Prince Caspian was strongly influenced by the Harry Potter phenomenon, with the Narnia series regarded as the torch bearer for fantasy franchises once Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II runs its course in 2011.
The good news is that Voyage of the Dawn Treader holds its own. The main reason to see this whirlwind adventure is for the dazzling visual effects. Sea serpents, fire-breathing dragons and a musketeer mouse are the tip of the iceberg. While visual effects dominate proceedings from landscapes to characters, there's always a real sense of space. The camera is able to duck-and-dive, yet the film keeps us suspended in its fantasy rattling scenes off at a quick pace.
Apted is not a director you'd normally associate with high fantasy films and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is like a blend of Peter Pan, The Princess Bride and the previous installations in the Narnia series. Grant it's not on par with the heart factor of these fantasy classics, but makes a solid fantasy adventure owing much to the cheeky presence of Eustace played by Will Poulter. His finicky performance is full of personality and zest making the majority of the comedy possible.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is all about entertainment value and it delivers a sucker punch with its stylish direction and flashy visuals. However, the vision is more clear. Apted directed Amazing Grace, making no bones about steering this vessel towards Lewis's Christian themes with a story, which is quite touching. Eustace is the central focus with his denial of the fantastic elements paralleling with a non-believer's journey into Christianity.
While the theme is quite overt and more noticeable than the first few adventures, it'll only be a mild irritation to some and an accurate translation of the spirit with which C.S. Lewis wrote the series for others. This is a solid fantasy adventure, which uses its 3D sparingly. It's of the immersive school, opting to make the journey more real to its audience than trying to make things simply jump out at you. If you want a complete experience opt for 3D, although the 2D version is only a few shades short.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a worthy installment in the series, which most will say is just as good if not better than the first chapters. The original cast may not be complete with a cameo or two from the two older Pervansie siblings, but the addition of Will Poulter makes up the difference with a sparkling comic performance.
The bottom line: Sparkling.