The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
More like Voyage of the YAWN Treader, actually. Little kids will surely find this collection of fantastical geegaws enthralling — Look, a talking mouse! — but as a grown-up fan of the magical and the mysterious, I was totally bored by this third, and perhaps most tryingly pious, installment in C.S. Lewis' fanciful spin on Christian mythology.
There's a whole lotta capital-A Adventure here without a whole lotta connecting story, as seemingly random cool things get tossed into a listless, if not actually unpleasant, excursion around the outlying islands of the pseudo-medieval realm of Narnia. The two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), inadvertently escape from war-torn 1940s Britain with their horrid cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) accidentally in tow. They journey through a magic painting this time to wash up on the Dawn Treader, the Viking-warship-like exploratory vessel of King Caspian (Ben Barnes).
They goof around for a while waiting for trouble: Caspian and Edmund have a fun sword duel! Rational stick-in-the-mud Eustace faints at the sight of a minotaur! Said trouble does find them, in the form of a mission to find the seven swords of seven lords who got lost on a mission to do something or other important to Narnia's fate.
When the story finally does start, it never hangs together. There's a magician (Bille Brown) on one island who has cast an invisibility spell over the strange, one-legged, vaguely humanish creatures who live there, which makes for a goodly chunk of tangent, but we never get what that was all about. The magician points them in the direction of the next bit that the script never really explicates, involving how those seven swords need to be lain upon Aslan's table on another island in order to fix all the bad things that are happening.
It seems we're meant to just take it all on faith. Because, of course, Aslan the lion (the voice of Liam Neeson) is a stand-in for Jesus, and Lewis' Narnia novels are Christian apologetics. Perhaps those in the club find the notion of blind trust, even in the face of the irrational, to be comforting. But it sure doesn't make for a compelling movie.
It doesn't help, either, that the adventures here have no heft or emotion, and that the only truly involving characters are the talking warrior mouse Reepicheep (the voice of Simon Pegg) and a dragon who enters the story literally out of nowhere. (He doesn't speak.) They have some nice moments together and separately, and are more animated than the human characters, even though they're CGI animated. That's not a criticism of the kids, who are fine, but of the lackluster script and the unimaginative direction of Michael Apted, which treats what should be awe-inspiring as so prosaic that we wonder why we're even being invited to look at it.
The postproduction conversion to 3-D doesn't help: It succeeds only in rendering the sweet-faced kids and the lovely landscapes creepy and fake, adding nothing to film except a heftier ticket price. There's no magic in that at all, except perhaps of the bad kind.