In 2005 “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” brought the first of seven of CS Lewis’s beloved series of fantasy novels to the screen to big box office returns. The second installment, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” was a summer release and fared poorly, so the film’s producers are hoping for a return to form with “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which arrives in theatres just in time for the family friendly Christmas season.
In this episode Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) have been sent to live with their uncle in the English countryside to escape the dangers of World War II London. With no wardrobes in sight it looks like another trip to the fantasy land of Narnia isn’t in store, but when a painting comes to life, dousing their uncle’s house with sea water they (and their snot nosed cousin) are transplanted to a Narnian ship called the Dawn Treader and reunited with King Caspian (Ben Barnes). Their mission, should they choose to accept—and you know they will—is to battle against slave traders, uncover the mystery of the evil green mist and find seven enchanted swords to bring peace to all Narnians.
The Narnia movies should be a cross of “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings,” but for some reason they never caught fire the way those other fantasy franchises did. Like those other popular movies they have engaging central characters, fantastic creature creations and brave new worlds but they also have something the other movies don’t—dull storylines. The books are classic but the oomph of Lewis’s prose hasn’t translated to the screen. The movies just kind of sit there, despite all the special effect pomp and circumstance. Add to that a deadly character named Eustace—surely a candidate for the British Twit Hall of Fame—and you have a movie that is more an endurance test than enjoyable seasonal entertainment.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” feels like a franchise that has over stayed its welcome and as it borrows liberally from “The Wizard of Oz,” the bible and even “Ghostbusters” could more likely re called “Voyage of the Retreaders.”
Once upon a time, Disney had a corner on the kids’ action-adventure market. Sunday at six was reserved for Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and for a couple of hours once a week movies like Race from Witch Mountain, Kidnapped and Treasure Island mixed plucky kids, mild action, exotic locations and lots of adventure.
The genre hasn’t gone away — new movies like this weekend’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader still give kids a thrill ride — but I get a nostalgic kick out of older, simpler action-adventure flicks.
Though it wasn’t a Disney film, The Goonies breathes the same air as Walt’s kids’ classics. The adventure begins when a group of kids calling themselves The Goonies find “One-Eyed” Willy’s treasure map. Sprinkle in some crazy inventions, a baddie played by Throw Mama from the Train star Anne Ramsey, a title track by Cyndi Lauper and Spielberg-esque storytelling, and you have one of the best loved kids’ romps from the 1980s.
Speaking of Spielberg, without his ET, we wouldn’t have had Flight of the Navigator. After ET’s successful mix of kids and aliens, a whole slew of movies tried to cash in on that formula. The story of a 12-year-old boy who disappears, only to return eight years later without having aged a day at all, Intelligence — a glib navigational computer — and a cameo by Sarah Jessica Parker as a NASA orderly with punk rock pink hair.
SJP’s pink hair stood out like a sore thumb in that movie, but two early ’80s kids’ fantasy-adventure films feature wild creatures and magical lands.
In The NeverEnding Story, a young hero must save his country, Fantasia, from something worse than an evil king. He must stop a creeping wave of nothingness. It may be the most existential kids’ movie ever, but woven into the fabric of the story are cool characters like the Rockbiter and Gmork the evil wolf.
Perhaps the best, although most underrated kids’ fantasy film, is 1982’s The Dark Crystal. Directed by Muppet master Jim Henson, the film sees a Gelfling setting off to find the missing piece of a magical crystal, in order to restore to his world. A minor hit when it was released, this masterful kid’s movie is finally getting a much deserved sequel, The Power of the Dark Crystal, scheduled for release in 2011.