Who’s In It: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, Tilda Swinton, Simon Pegg, Liam Neeson
The Basics: Younger Pevensies Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are called back to Narnia with their snotty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) in tow, where they find themselves playing hero again alongside Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). On the trail of seven missing Lords, the gang investigates a mysterious evil mist that’s been kidnapping the innocent citizens of Narnia, facing their own battles with temptation along the way.
What’s The Deal: Lightening the mood from its violent predecessor (2008’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), the series’ third outing finds more agile footing as a rousing children’s adventure – even if the plot is clumsily adapted from C.S. Lewis’s source novel. Packed to the brim with good old-fashioned questing, mystical creatures and magical tests, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader's script also has an unfortunate video-game feel thanks to a tacked-on mission involving a never-explained evil mist that can only be defeated by collecting seven magical swords from the far reaches of the world. (Clunky CG animation and 3D conversion with no added value don't help.) But while the film could easily just jump from one magical adventure/swordfight/dragon flight to the next, director Michael Apted manages to keep the focus on his young heroes as they learn their lessons; in doing so he sets the film franchise back on course, positioned as the faith-oriented family series it was meant to be.
Why The Narnia Films Are So Dependable: They’re perfectly safe moral lessons disguised as fantastical adventure, crafted in handsome detail with a wholesome nostalgic feel. They teach kids that people die (and are sometimes, you know, reborn), and that before you can enjoy grown-up things you’ve got to do a little growing up yourself. Dawn Treader hits all of the major series points, even if the proceedings are vanilla-flavored and occasionally snooze-inducing. (Word of advice: Take your bathroom break during the slow and talky first third of the film.)
Who Steals The Movie: Forget handsome Ben Barnes, who set Susan’s heart aflutter in Prince Caspian. The cast member who makes the splashiest impression is youngster Will Poulter as Lucy and Edmund’s disdainful cousin, Eustace Scrubb. (He had a similarly impactful turn playing a whip-smart delinquent in the excellent British comedy Son of Rambow.) Meanwhile, little Georgie Henley, growing more beautiful and assured with each Narnia film, steps out of the shadows of her on-screen elder siblings to lead the ensemble.
Where Dawn Treader Ups The Ante: In its Christian messaging. Always present in Lewis’s source novels, the faith element is much more pronounced here especially when it comes to Aslan (voiced once more by Liam Neeson) and what he represents. As a result, the kids learn lessons about vanity, jealousy, greed, bad behavior, and what it means when a loved one goes to “Aslan’s country,” never to be seen in life again.