Prince Caspian Reviewed: Putting away the Fear of Childishness
I didn’t expect to be saying this, but Prince Caspian is a better movie than 2005’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—and, believe it or not, a more Christian movie.
Gone is the shallow “three cheers for family” prattle of the first film; in Prince Caspian, it’s even suggested that obeying Aslan might be more important than being nice to one’s siblings. Gone is the “just believe in yourself” message that seems to dominate anything Disney has done in recent years; Prince Caspian has the temerity to suggest that humility—or even believing in Someone greater than yourself—might be the better course.
Moreover, as a central concept, Prince Caspian seems to pick up on one of Lewis’s major themes (if not in the book Prince Caspian, it’s one that runs through many of his works): the silliness—and danger—of wanting to be thought grown-up and sophisticated. Lewis wrote in his 1952 essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
Peter is the most obvious embodiment of this theme in the film: in an early scene, British soldiers break up a fist-fight between Peter and another boy in a tube station, telling Peter scornfully, “Act your age.” Unfortunately, he is acting his age, which is precisely the age at which one desperately wants to be grown up and ends up acting petulant and irresponsible instead. (I don’t think I’m ever going to like actor William Moseley’s version of Peter, but at least he’s not as whiny here as he was in the first film.)
Peter also seems to have developed the “adult” idea that taking action himself is preferable to waiting around for Aslan to come and rescue them. News flash: he’s wrong. The movie effectively uses emotionally wrenching scenes of a battle plan gone awry—and the deaths of noble Narnians—to show how misled Peter has been.
But it’s not just Peter—many of the characters learn to embrace childlike belief instead of supposedly mature self-reliance. Caspian, the young Telmarine prince, escapes from his uncle, the usurper Lord Miraz, only to be captured by creatures he’s been led to believe were fairy tales: Dwarves and Talking Animals, the residents of Old Narnia. Many of the Old Narnians themselves, especially Trumpkin the Dwarf have, through the centuries, begun to doubt the reality of the Kings and Queens of old—and even of Aslan himself, as he has apparently been absent from Narnia for 1300 years. If he does exist, he seems to have abandoned the Narnians.
I do wish the film had shown more of the loyalty of the Narnians who do still believe in Aslan, but it’s an effective portrayal of the crisis of faith people often undergo when they feel abandoned by God. Some try to rely on themselves, and some turn to the darker powers that often seem like they’re more in control of things. Both Caspian and Peter, after their failed invasion of the Telmarine castle, are tempted to turn to a nearer evil power instead of trusting in the seemingly distant Aslan.
Lucy, the youngest Pevensie sibling, is as stalwart in her faith as ever—and to the one who believes, more is revealed. She’s the only one who sees Aslan initially, as he guides the children on the journey (or is willing to guide them, if they would only listen to the most childlike one among them). Young Georgie Henley remains a great Lucy, conveying wonder and an amazing ease in Aslan’s presence without coming across as too twee.
(The one moment in the film that struck me as travesty and made me claw the arm of my seat—and of my husband—in irritation was the implication that one of Lucy’s Aslan-sightings was a dream. This may not be troublesome to viewers who don’t know that this suggestion never occurs in the book, for of course God does speak to people in dreams. I find the “it’s a dream” explanation troubling, but, since Aslan does appear in the (very real) flesh later on, it’s not as bad as it could have been.)
The film, through Lucy, raises the question of whether things might have gone better—if Narnian lives might have been spared—if everyone had had more faith in Aslan from the beginning. There’s a sense running through the battles—and yes, they are long—that, as noble as the self-sacrificial fighting may be, it might all be unnecessary. It’s a courageous and countercultural idea to include in the movie, especially for a director who clearly likes to film battles.
As far as the aesthetics of the film, the CGI critters are much more convincing here than in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The valiant mouse Reepicheep is a highlight. In the 1300 years since the events of the first movie, fauns seem to have developed amazing jumping abilities, which are pretty cool to watch. The New Zealand scenery gets to play a more impressive role here—or at least more impressive to people who prefer green, growing things to endless snow.
The Narnia movie series may never get over one of its biggest visual hurdles, which is that it often looks silly for children to be fighting against adults, particularly in hand-to-hand combat. Frankly, the fighting of tiny CGI mice looks more convincing. Trying to focus on the boys’ swordsmanship is, I think, a mistake—because it calls attention to the ridiculousness of children in battle. Treating these scenes with attempted realism not only fails aesthetically but also fails to remind us that the children aren’t fighting through their own strength. It’s only through Aslan that they can do the impossible.
Overall, though, through the positive example of Lucy and the negative example of other characters, the movie comes across in defense of childlike faith—a faith eventually vindicated. It’s such a different (and welcome) focus from the first film that I wonder what happened. Whatever the screenwriters’ and director’s intent, Prince Caspian ultimately succeeds—despite some flaws—as a film because it seems to have taken the importance of the “old stories” to heart. A young man named Clive Staples Lewis, when he gave up his fashionable adolescent skepticism, began to read the stories and myths that enchanted him in his childhood—and, as a result, found himself at the feet of Jesus. In some ways, that’s where the movie Prince Caspian ends up too, whether intentionally or not.
Absolutely fabulous review. I saw the movie today, and agree with almost everything you wrote, especially in the proportional understanding of what the movie gets right.
I might have some very minor quibbles -for instance, I think Lewis made clear that the boys WERE able to fight at the level of men thanks to their years in Narnia- but your evaluation of what makes the movie solid is dead on.
Two quick notes- first, Adamson clearly stole/honored a lot of filming and cinemetography ideas from Lord of the Rings… thank goodness! Narnia was big and beautiful and mystical, just as it has always been in my imagination. The first movie made it seem only slightly larger than Central Park.
Second, you’re absolutely right that the movie supports C.S. Lewis themes… without supporting the themes in the original Prince Caspian! I would even say this movie completely ignores its own themes, and instead supports themes from the first book better than the first movie did! This threw a twist into my thinking about how to correctly honor the book in the making of a movie. It’s certainly better than what the first movie did, and I can understand the choice in light of fears that the story would be too boring otherwise… I’ll have to think about it.
Anyways, thanks for the thoughtful evaluation and excellent review.
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I am so not reading that comment.
Otherwise our podcast will be really boring.
Thanks for this. I am looking forward to seeing the movie. I do have one question, though.
I can’t remember if anyone here has addressed this, but the thing that bothered me the most about the first movie was the lack of heroism in all but Lucy. In the book, the children were all ready to fight for this Tumnus who had risked his life for their sister. In the movie there’s this constant hesitation to fight or go forward. The line that killed me was when Susan said “Just because a fat man in a red coat hands you a sword doesn’t make you a hero!” or something like that.
Does that change in the Pevensies at all? Is there anything to be said for that “Narnian air?”
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Ben, I absolutely agree that it’s important that the boys are able to fight well. My only quibble is with the filming, because I think the literal, realistic treatment makes it actually seem like they’re not very competent fighters. As well as the actors might have trained, they haven’t had that Narnian air!
Adena–Peter never comes off too well in either of the films, unfortunately. Here, however, his problem isn’t reluctance but exactly the opposite: recklessness and self-reliance. The film actually uses this weakness, though, to explore meaningful faith issues. And I won’t give away any spoilers, but Susan and especially Edmund do get some very nice moments in this film.
Wow! Great review. What mitigated the “it’s only a dream” thing for me was that Aslan later repeats a line from the dream (“things never happen the same way twice, dear one.”) in real life, indicating that, even though the earlier sighting was a dream, it was a dream from Aslan.
The filmmakers have said that the reason they made that a dream sequence is that they had a hard time justifying that Aslan had been seen in reality, and yet He doesn’t help out for a long time. I understand that concern. This way, He was always there, waiting to be asked for His help.
Denes Houses last blog post..John Mark Reynolds on Caspian
Thanks for the review. Now I’m a bit interested in seeing the film.
Thank you for this review, it’s wonderfully written. I just read the other article on this blog about embracing Caspian and I am very new to this blog. I get the feeling that both husband and wife write here? I look forward to reading more. I think this is the third article I’ve read here this morning.
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Don’t agree with this review at all.
I can appreciate how hard is is it write a screenplay, and how hard it is to please Narnia fans and those people who have not read the books but have high expectations after the success of the first movie. I do think they should have stayed closer to the book because we miss out on the true spirit of the story and the essence of the characters and relationships which are formed between the Narnians and the Pevensies.
Being a big fan of the Prince Caspian tale, I did not like most of the adaption for this Narnia Chronicle, I expected some changes because some things need to be condensed and won’t work in translating to a movie. (There were a few changes in LWW, but it did not differ so much from the story and i thought Andrew Adamson did a perfect job – i couldn’t fault LWW at all) I felt the rivalry between Peter and Caspian was a very bad decision. I cannot see how the competition between these two would make the story better. They worked as a team, not butting heads with eachother. As I recall, Peter says to Caspian “your majesty is very welcome, i haven’t come to take your place but to put you in it … NOT “you have no more right to be here than they do..!” (Peter yelling at Caspian about the Telmarines) CS Lewis did not create Peter the High King to be egotistical. Caspians true character and beliefs should have been shaped, and weaved into the story showing his childhood and the two most important people/lessons to him as a child – Dr Cornelious and Nurse. Caspian seemed lost and unsure of what was happening and what he believed. I wished we had seen more of Aslan. This was a different Narnia to the Narnia that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy left..but not so different as the movie made it out to be.
The battle scenes were so well done, Peter and Ed were were fantastic. There are battles in several of the Narnia chronicles so to complain about the battles and violence is just ridiculous. The battle in LWW, and the two in Prince Caspian were brilliantly shot. There was barely any blood at all.
For people to say they know that CS Lewis wanted the story told the way the movie reflected it, is not really a valid comment. If C.S Lewis wanted the story told that way, he would have written the book like this, but it’s not as if anyone can ask him what he thinks. Because these books were written many years ago, there are several generations of fans and readers who all imagine Narnia differently. Everyone sees things differently so i think being aware of that is important. What i have written here are my feelings.
I think the feedback in general and the box office results speak for themselves that many people wished there were not so many changes. However i imagine what a hard job this is, and i also want to say what a well made movie it was. The effects, the scenery, costumes, and the acting were all amazing. The Pevensies did a great job with the script that was written for them. Just for me personally i would have liked to see more of the attention to detail as it was in the book. I’m not sure if i will buy the DVD or see it again at the movies because it did not play out the way i expected it in contrast to LWW.
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