A gallant warrior mouse and a dragon with a secret join the two youngest Pevensie children for a voyage and a quest in the third and best so far in the Narnia series. War has come to England and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) tries to enlist, protesting “I’ve fought wars and led armies,” when he is rejected for not being old enough to join. Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are on the brink of the adult world. But the younger children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund are packed off to live with relatives, including their arrogant meanie of a cousin, Eustace (“Son of Rambow’s” Will Poulter), a young man who believes that he (with the help of science and logic) has all the answers. Time for a trip to Narnia, this time via a magic painting of a ship at sea, which suddenly floods the bedroom and washes them away.
They are picked up by a ship called the Dawn Treader, led by their old friend King Caspian (Ben Barnes). And soon they are on a quest to find seven banished lords and their seven swords.
They will face daunting challenges, some of the most terrifying coming from themselves, sometimes amplified by malevolent magic and sometimes just a reflection of their own youth, inexperience, and insecurities. They accuse each other of not being up to the tasks as they wonder themselves whether they are. They are drawn to worldly prizes. Lucy is so eager to be as pretty and grown up as her big sister that she steals a spell from a book of incantations. Eustace keeps stoutly insisting that he wants them to get the British consulate to sort things out and tries to stuff treasure into his pockets. Edmund sees a vision of the White Queen, still tempting him to betray the others. In one moment reminiscent of “Ghostbusters,” “Harry Potter,” and “1984,” an evil force brings into life whatever is most feared by the people it is attacking.
The movie succeeds most as a visual treat. The title vessel is genuinely enchanting, exactly what you would want a fairy tale ship to look like. The series moves smoothly into 3D, designed more to draw you into the world of Narnia than to make you swat away distracting objects seemingly suspended in front of your nose. It also achieves a nice balance, accessible to those who are not familiar with the books and the first two movies or interested in the Christian allegory but satisfying for those who are.
Parents should know that this film includes fantasy action and peril with scary monsters and transformations, a slave auction, swords, skeletons and enchantments.
Family discussion: What does it mean to want what was taken from you instead of what has been given to you? Why was Eustace so skeptical and unpleasant? Why was Reepicheep the only one to explore the other land?
If you like this, try: the first two Narnia movies (and the books) and “Stardust.”