Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader***

Pitched back to the magical land of Narnia from Second World War England, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) are reunited with Caspian, now a king, and head off on a perilous journey to locate citizens who have been snatched away by a mysterious sea mist.

Thus it is that the two younger heroes of CS Lewis's Narnia books take the lead in this sub-Tolkien adventure which features fleeting appearances by the series' principal nemeses Aslan the lion and the ethereal White Witch.

There is much low-grade swordplay and action, mythical beasts and an undercurrent of children maturing into adults that sets this style of storytelling apart from contemporary rivals like JK Rowling.

The Narnia books (and films) are old-fashioned fairytales; in that respect they are somewhat out of step with today's audiences.

After The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and its sequel Prince Caspian, this third episode in the saga (based on arguably the weakest book in the series) lacks punch. It is equally heavy on CGI and symbolism but fails to summon up the epic quality of the first film.

Too many central characters are missing. Susan and Peter, the elder siblings, are away at war.

Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the White Witch (a cameo from Tilda Swinton) flit in and out of the plot but only serve to either unbalance the story or wrap up the finale. Caspian (Ben Barnes) is no substitute and even a mighty ocean battle

betwixt dragon and sea serpent can't substitute for what's missing. However, Will Poulter, as the Pevensies' brattish cousin Eustace, steals the film.

There is an essence of stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen's work in this resolutely retro offering. It presents a voyage to a far-off land – a passage to an island of lost souls via a land of gold that tempts and bewitches. The derring-do that results is rooted in the books and films of the past.

Maybe that's what this franchise is about: offering an antidote to Harry Potter and that ilk. The Narnia stories are packed with life lessons that belong (wartime chaos notwithstanding) in a gentler time. If Dawn Treader manages to present the essence of CS Lewis, then perhaps that's no bad thing.