May 22, 2008

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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (PG)
The Pevensie children, onetime Kings and Queens of Narnia, are called back when their kingdom faces trouble in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, a basically enjoyable if slightly too long kid adventure tale.

Somewhat older kid adventure, too, I should probably say. In addition to the movie’s being longer than the 90-minute point (the point at which kids not yet in a numbered grade at school seem to start with the squirming and the “can we go”-type questions), it does contain at least two swashbuckling battle scenes with some stuff that might be too scary for little kids.

The movie wastes very little time in the ordinary world of wartime Britain. After a quick prologue in Narnia, we have only the quickest of catch-ups with the Pevensies — Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) — and back everybody is in Narnia. As the trailer explains, the foursome soon figures out that the Narnia they’re in now is a Narnia some thousand years older than the one they left. The magical creatures that used to fill the countryside seem to have taken a back seat to the brute force of the new rulers, led by the snarling Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), the man in charge of Narnia now, though he’s not the king — he’s only a place-holder between the death of his king brother and the ascendance of his nephew Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). While not a guy likely to believe in talking beavers and centaurs and the like, Prince Caspian did have an open-minded professor who schooled him in the magical history of Narnia and circumstances quickly have him thinking his uncle isn’t the stand-up guy you’d hope your only living relative to be. So, when the Kings and Queens of Narnia appear after Caspian blows a horn to summon them, he seems willing to at least consider that they might be of help to him, even though they’re only kids. (You’ll remember that when the Pevensies traveled back through the wardrobe at the end of the last movie, they were vaguely cast-of-Friends age but went back to school uniforms once fully in reality.)

Help with what? Well, anyone who has read Hamlet or seen The Lion King knows that when you’ve got a young prince, a dead king and a lord protectorate uncle, you’ve got trouble. Thusly, there’s some army-raising to do, some magical creatures to win over and some battles to fight.

Among those characters who exist solely as CGI, I pick Reepicheep (Eddie Izzard), the chivalrous, sword-fighting mouse, as my favorite. Izzard makes the character charming and funny without being overly jokey or too cutesy. Among the live-action magical characters, I give the prize to Peter Dinklage, who is great in everything and is here the right amount of Narnia-savvy and Lucy-befriending. (Special honorary awards go to Warwick Davis, for playing a particularly angry and sarcastic dwarf, and Tilda Swinton, for a hissing cameo as the White Witch).

Perhaps because there was less to set up in this movie (we get the whole “Narnia is magic” thing; we know as much of the Pevensies’ backstories as we need to) or perhaps because this story just lends itself to more action than the first movie did, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian seemed less thinky, more lively than its predecessor. I’m sure there’s some sort of lion-as-Jesus message in there but the movie doesn’t concern itself too much with any particular questions of faith and doesn’t seem to expect you to either. In fact, with the exception of the faithful Lucy, no one in the movie seems to particularly care when, how or if Aslan will lion-ex-machina his way onto the scene — no one on the screen and seemingly no one behind the camera either. Prince Caspian seems to say, “good guys, bad guys, funny talking mouse, let’s battle” and does it in a way that is exciting without being too one-dimensional or too self-referential (it’s always refreshing to see a kids’ movie that isn’t choking to death on its own hipness).

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is perhaps not the perfect kid adventure but it is a solid one, full of just enough dwarf and talking badger humor and just enough swashbuckling to keep the crowd mostly entranced. B

Rated PG for epic battle action and violence. Directed by Andrew Adamson and written by Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (from the novel of the same name by C.S. Lewis), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is two hours and 20 minutes long and is distributed by Buena Vista Pictures.