IN DAYS OF YORE -- the previous decade -- Harry Potter and a hobbit named Frodo cast a spell on the good citizens of Hollywood. From Silver Lake to the Hills of Beverly, besotted executives sold their souls for the movie rights to beloved book series. Any story about a heroic teenager who must decipher or destroy a magical object to save the world from the ultimate evil was greeted as the second coming of "Star Wars."
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Promised Land. Potential franchises such as "Eragon," "The Seeker" and "The Golden Compass" were abandoned after a single installment. And when the second of the "Narnia" films, "Prince Caspian," was a relative box-office disappointment, Disney ended its participation in the planned franchise.
The mouse must have smelled the cheese growing moldy.
"The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," based on the third book in C.S. Lewis' Christian allegory, is an utter shipwreck, a would-be adventure with meager rations of magic and a listless crew.
Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), two of the Pevensie children who defended Narnia in the previous movies, are still sequestered from the London blitz when the mythical kingdom calls them again. Through a portal in a painting, they are swept out to sea, along with their snooty and skeptical cousin Eustace (Will Poulter, a pain to behold).
Although they are rescued by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), he doesn't know why they've been summoned, because Narnia is at peace. But when the voyagers learn that a nearby island has been invaded by slave traders, they embark on a quest: to collect the seven swords of the Lords of Narnia, lay them in a pretty pattern on the altar of Aslan and defeat -- you guessed it -- the ultimate evil.
In the gooey center of this crock of complications, the kids must confront their own temptations, and Eustace turns into a dragon, yet the British kids are like innocent bystanders in a bloodless video game. There's no sense of peril to characters we care about, the CGI effects are a yawn and veteran director Michael Apted doesn't find a place in this pedestrian tale for any memorable moral lessons. When symbolic lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) makes a final-curtain cameo to tell the kids they can't return to Narnia, the only reasonable response is "Hallelujah!"
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