Director – Alex Kirby, Screenplay – Alan Seymour, Based on the Novel by C.S. Lewis, Producer – Paul Stone, Music – Geoffrey Burgon, Visual Effects Design – Mickey Edwards & Tony Harding, Flying Sequence – Sam Heaphy, Animation – Animation City, Aslan & Dragon Designed by Vin Burnham, Makeup/Masks – Lesley Altringham, Julie Dartnell & Sylvia Thornton, Design – Sarah Greenwood, Alan Spalding & Adrian Uwalaka. Production Company – BBC TV/Wonderworks
Sophie Wilcox (Lucy), Jonathan R. Scott (Edmund), David Thwaites (Eustace), Samuel West (King Caspian), Warwick Davis (Reepicheep), John Hallam (Captain Drinian), Guy Fithen (Rince), Ailsa Berk, Tim Rose & William Todd-Jones (Aslan Performers), Ronald Pickup (Voice of Aslan), Ailsa Berk (Dragon Performer), Neale S. McGrath (Rynelf), Pavel Douglas (Lord Bern), Geoffrey Bayldon (Ramandu), Marcus Eyre (Pug), Christopher Godwin (Lord Rhoop), Gabrielle Anwar (Princess), John Quarmby (Governor Gumpas)
Edmund, Lucy and their obnoxious cousin Eustace are drawn back into Narnia via the painting of a ship. They are deposited in the ocean, alongside the ship The Dawn Treader, which is commanded by their former companion, the now adult King Caspian. Caspian has set forth on a quest to the archipelago of the Lonely Islands in search of the seven lords who sought exile there during the tyranny of his uncle’s rule. Realising that Aslan has brought them back to Narnia to aid Caspian, Edmund, Lucy and the constantly complaining Eustace join the quest. Their journey takes them through a number of adventures where they are sold as slaves; where Eustace puts on a bracelet that transforms him into a dragon; where Lucy is forced to confront a fearsome wizard who has placed a spell of invisibility on the inhabitants of one island; where they find a pool that turns anything placed in it to gold and greed drives them to fight over it; an island where one’s worst dreams are manifest; and where they are bidden to travel to the end of the world to seek a means of lifting the curse that has placed the last three lords into a deep sleep.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was the third of the BBC’s tv mini-series based on C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. It had been preceded by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe (1988) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (1989) and was followed by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair (1990). When The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was originally broadcast, both it and Prince Caspian were made as one series – Prince Caspian being two half-hour episodes long and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader occupying four half-hour episodes, whereas the other two books were told in six episodes apiece. Why this was the case is not known. However, when released on video (as seen here), the two stories were broken back up into their original titles.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes exactly like all the other BBC Narnia adaptations – that is to say, it is very faithful to the source work (C.S. Lewis’s 1952 novel of the same name) but suffers from poor production values. The book suffers as a result of having been condensed to be told in four episodes and placed on the back end of Prince Caspian. The story, for instance, abruptly opens with the children being whisked into the painting – no explanation, nothing, and certainly none of the book’s preamble where Lucy and Edmund are sent on holiday and encounter the obnoxious Eustace – he gets almost no introduction. The condensed nature of the story makes the episodic quality of the original book even more evident. C.S. Lewis was clearly using the story to create more heavy-handed lessons in Christian morality – about the evils of greed and covetousness where the pool of gold comes to symbolise “the love of money …”, where Eustace’s transformation into a dragon becomes a lesson in humility, where Lucy must resist the temptation of vanity when she comes across the beauty spell and so forth.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader suffers from the same weak dramatics of the rest of the BBC adaptations, which were problems that came more from C.S. Lewis than the writers of the various series. Many dramatic aspects seem poorly motivated. For example, when the party come upon the pool that transforms objects into gold, they are overcome by backstabbingly vicious greed with almost instant rapidity, until the appearance of Aslan banishes these feelings as quickly as they came. One can see C.S. Lewis’s point in wishing to beat a tub about covetousness but when the otherwise noble characters are suddenly beset by such sins out of nowhere, it seems ungainly and unconvincing. Eustace’s brattish obnoxiousness is also overstressed.
Occasionally though, the magic does fire up and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a competent flight of the imagination during its picaresque. I liked the sequence where Caspian confronted and deposed the governor who was selling slaves. There are occasionally some appealing characters, with the show being stolen by dwarf actor Warwick Davis, the chief Ewok and the title character in Willow (1988) for George Lucas and Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), as a fiercely dedicated warrior mouse. There are some oddly surreal sights – like that of the giant one-legged Dufflepudstrampolining through the air.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader also suffers from the same shoddy production values that beset the other adaptations. The dragon that Eustace transforms into is highly unconvincing, seeming like no more than the big oversized puppet it is. The effects are even worse when the dragon takes to the air and the slipshod blue screen effects come into play. There is also the use of animation to stand in for magical creatures that we saw in the first series, used here to represent birds, bees and storm clouds, which is only loudly signals impoverishment of budget. To their credit, the BBC have gone out and obtained the use of a real sailing ship to stand in for the Dawn Treader.
As part of the big screen Narnia adaptations mounted in the 2000s, the story here was filmed as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).