In Hollywood, despite major examples to the contrary, the general school of thought during the summer (especially when adapting fantasy stories) seems to be to rely on battle scenes and action in order to keep audiences riveted, rather than focusing on just telling a good story. This definitely appears to be the dominating mindset of the filmmakers in charge of the second installment of Disney's Narnia franchise, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Capsian. And I'm confused as to why this approach was taken with Prince Caspian when C.S. Lewis has given us a great, fantastical story to work with that even comes with nice allegorical ties to the real world, offering kids lessons in love, courage and honor.
This is my fundamental gripe about an otherwise entertaining movie. Because, sure, while there are some people who could watch giant armies storm an open field and men sweat and grunt as they battle each other for hours, there is no question the kids at my screening grew tired of all that. In fact, the girl next to me who was no older than 10 spent a good portion of the movie with her head buried in her father's shoulder, as it was just a little too violent and scary to endure (some people are even saying it's too violent for the PG rating).
To read more about why I think filmmakers missed an opportunity to tell a great story,
The opening of the movie is promisingly filled with tension as Prince Caspian, the rightful heir to the Telmarine throne (a race of men that invaded Narnia after Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie left) is driven into the forest after his uncle attempts to assassinate him in the night. Right off the bat the musical score is wonderful, our hearts are racing, and we're treated to sweeping views of fields, mountains and cliffs. When Prince Caspian (played by newcomer Ben Barnes who is super cute but saddled with an unfortunate "Telmarine" accent) blows a horn left by Susan, she and her siblings are once again whisked back to Narnia after a year away in London. However, when they return they discover it's now been 1300 years since they ruled as kings and queens and the Telmarines have driven the Narnians underground and out of the history books.
The Pevensies get to work helping Caspian reclaim his throne so he can bring peace between the two races. This is where I wish we could have spent some time discovering the "what"s and "why"s of all that has happened to Narnia by this new race of men, in order to give the film some depth to balance out the violence. Instead, these details are glossed over and we're launched into one battle after another. There isn't a ton of blood and for the most part they are well-executed (I especially like watching Susan do battle with her arrows) but for a movie that is very long (almost two and half hours) I felt like parents and children alike would have preferred more character moments and less Narnians getting beaten to death (and in one instance, beheaded).
Case in point: Reepicheep the Mouse — voiced by Eddie Izzard! — is absolutely charming and at my screening he was the best part of the film for the kids, judging by their laughter and sheer glee every time he was on the screen. There's also a lovely scene in which Lucy is swept away into the forest with the tree spirits and again, the kids in my screening sat upright, wide-eyed as they watched the little girl make her way through a magical land. I found myself yearning for more of that good stuff.
And as for that little girl sitting next to me, I got the feeling she would have also swapped more time with Reepicheep and other Narnians for most of the fight scenes. At the end of the day, I wish the filmmakers would have (as C.S. Lewis might have urged them) had a little faith and just told a great story.
For the trailer and more videos from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, check out movies.ivillage.com.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney