Eustace (Will Poulter, of the underknown Son of Rambow), the irritating cousin, takes verbal aim at that make-believe place they natter so much about. Before they can defend themselves from their weaselly relative, the waves in a maritime painting on the wall spill into the playroom and sweep all three of them back into its ocean. Immediately, they are whisked onto the Dawn Treader, a caravel captained by Prince Caspian (the dull if handsome Ben Barnes) and mouse-warrior Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg).
The courageous Pevensies and cowardly Eustace think they are helping Prince Caspian in his quasi-Arthurian, quasi-Odyssean quest to reunite lost swords and reawaken missing lords. But as the young heroes do so, each faces an immobilizing personal challenge and finds a means of mastering it. For Lucy, it's vanity and pride; for Edmund, it's envy; for Eustace, it's pretty much all the seven deadly sins. As the youngsters rise to the occasion, they are rooted on by Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), the Christ-like lion.
Unfortunately, between its ripsnorting beginning and moving finale, Apted's film sails into the doldrums. One need not have familiarity with the source material to understand what's going on (as one requires knowledge of Horcruxes etc. to parse what's happening in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
But while Apted (versatile director of Coal Miner's Daughter and The World Is Not Enough) gets focused and affecting performances from his young actors, their excellent work gets upstaged by the clutter of computer-generated imagery imperfectly integrated into the overall vision. Apted deftly handles the elements of Christian allegory; it's those infernal digital effects that prove to be beyond his capacity.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.