The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is one of the least structured of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia—so much so that a British television adaptation bundled its story together with the second book, Prince Caspian.
This lack of structure in the original text frees Walden Media's adaptation of the book, directed by Michael Apted, to be livelier than its previous by-the-numbers takes on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian (or most of their other children's book adaptations, such as Charlotte's Web and City of Ember, which are inoffensive but often bland). This new film is not exactly a classic of all-ages cinema, but it's got more energy and entertainment value than many non-Pixar efforts for children.
Apted is a smart choice for director. He knows how to work with children, as evidenced in his Up series of documentaries (7 Up, 14 Up, etc.), and also how to do big-budget Hollywood thrillers, such as his James Bond entry, The World is Not Enough. Apted's skills might explain the livelier performances of Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes as Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, and why the scene-stealing Will Poulter, from Son of Rambow, is on board as their bratty cousin, Eustace Scrubb, whom they draw into Narnia to aid them on their quest with King Caspian (Ben Barnes). Battles with various creatures occur roughly every five minutes, with a few life lessons thrown in and a few oblique references to the Narnia books' Christian themes.
Poulter gives the series the sense of humor that was lacking in the deadly earnest previous films, and his scenes with the CGI warrior mouse, Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg, replacing Eddie Izzard from the previous film), have a particular charm. Lewis' plot sadly requires Poulter to disappear for a good bit of the third act, but luckily his character takes center stage in later installments.
Though the film at times seems like a rush to the next fight scene, Dawn Treader does manage to include more intelligence than many fantasy films for children. Certainly, it's a step above Percy Jackson and its ilk. Hard-core Narnia fans might debate its merits, but parents and children should find it a delightful voyage indeed.