All children want to be something great. With exhortations Hey! Watch me bounce this ball! – and charming bravado, kids demand to be the center of attention. But when their efforts fall short and parents are preoccupied with the distractions of the adult world, children sometimes turn to a fantasy world where they can command the utmost respect.
Films like The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian attempt to showcase this world of fantasy. Just when Peter (William Moseley), Ed (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) start to become re-accustomed to the real world after their first Narnia adventure, they are suddenly whisked away in a Harry Potter-like scene (in a train station, no less) back to the magical land of talking animals and surly dwarves. However, when the children appear at one of Narnia’s exotic, unknown beaches, they immediately sense that something is wrong.
Much has changed in Narnia since they were its kings and queens. Not all animals are friendly now. Narnians, in fact, are under attack. A span of a few years in England has translated into hundreds of years in Narnia and the children have been summoned to once again vanquish evil and bring forth justice. Does this sound familiar?
C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books made obvious their Christian allegorical themes and here Prince Caspian places the second coming of the youthful rulers alongside the second coming of the powerful lion Aslan, the narrative’s Christ-like figure. There’s no doubt that Lewis would have been delighted at the chance to spread his message for Christianity to a new generation of youngsters – the powerful staging of this film brings out the author’s academic studies through medieval depictions of lords and knights as well as mythological depictions of centaurs and dwarves.
Soon, though, Prince Caspian assimilates features from other recent cinematic blockbusters, taking away from the film’s message as well as its originality. With massive battle scenes and the inclusion of Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), a wisecracking, surly dwarf sidekick, Narnia begins to reflect characteristics of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings. And the steel masks of King Miraz’ (Sergio Castellitto) army pays obvious tribute to the Immortals in 300.
Luckily for a children’s movie, the violence does not overwhelm, though it does distract from the core message. Neglected by the children, Narnia has erupted into chaos, and only their return to the land and their eventual return to Aslan can save them and their precious world from collapsing. There is a bit of soul-searching involved, as Peter is tempted by the ice queen and later asks Ed, “What do you suppose happens to us if we die in Narnia?” But it is obvious that the older children have turned away from Aslan (i.e., Christ) and only the young Lucy can save them through her stalwart belief in the figure.
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian increases the level of action from the first installment but still suffers from mediocre acting and poor pacing (Ben Barnes as Caspian, a seasoned theatre actors, wipes the main four of the screen in every shared scene, which makes the gentle power struggle between him and Peter seem a little ill-matched.) A central mano a mano battle drags on with obvious developments – the film makes it clear where this is headed, so why not present it sooner?
Efforts to make the film more dramatic (perhaps for the enjoyment of the parents) fall flat, but Prince Caspian will still appeal to the children in the audience as a way to realise their fantasies of being the respected rulers of a magical kingdom, and for those who found the first instalment in this franchise to be rather mundane, this is certainly an improvement.