Visually, Adamson borrows heavily from the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter recipe books.
Because Narnia author C.S. Lewis and LOTR scribe J.R.R. Tolkien were longtime friends and Oxford dons who wrote their allegories at roughly the same time (Lewis' were published first), there are obvious commonalities. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter's mother, who uses initials instead of a first name like the dons who so deeply influenced her, has acknowledged her debt to both. Still, for Prince Caspian's first half hour, I wished that Adamson had framed his story so that it didn't look so derivative of LOTR, Harry Potter and his own Shrek.
As it goes along, Adamson's longish film (137 minutes) overcomes an awkward start, finding its own visual language and rhythms.
In earth years it is 1941, a year after the Pevensies fell through the wardrobe into an enchanted parallel universe. While they're standing in the London Underground in their school uniforms, the sound of a ram's horn beckons them to Narnia where 1300 years have elapsed since Aslan the lion king was sacrificed and resurrected.
Thus, the Pevensies go from the frying pan of the German blitz on London to the fire of battle between Narnians and King Miraz who effectively has deposed Prince Caspian (destined-to-be-next-tween heartthrob, Ben Barnes), rightful heir to the throne. Where Lion, Witch and Wardrobe was primarily an adventure movie, this one is definitely a war movie.
While the acting is a vast improvement over the first installment, the supremely talented Sergio Castellito as King Miraz and the wryly funny Peter Dinklage (of The Station Agent) as Trumpkin the Red Dwarf, steal the show so often they could be booked for felony. Eddie Izzard, who supplies the voice of Reebicheep, is their able co-conspirator.
Despite postcard-lovely landscapes (shot variously in New Zealand, Slovenia, Poland and the Czech Republic), Adamson's film really comes to life when a menagerie of griffins and centaurs are loosed, suggesting an invasion of Maurice Sendak's wild things.
While the more mature actors and creatures and CGI effects tend to upstage the younger performers, nothing could be sweeter than Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie, the youngest sibling, whose poise and pluck carry the day.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Andrew Adamson, based on the book by C.S. Lewis. With Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Peter Dinklage and Sergio Castellito. Distributed by Walt Disney Co.
Running time: 2 hours, 17 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (intense battle sequence)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl