STUDIO: Walt Disney Home Video
MSRP: $39.99
RUNNING TIME: 149 minutes
• Audio Commentary with director Andrew Adamson and actors
• The Bloopers of Narnia
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes: Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns; Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes To Life; Big Movie Comes To A Small Town; Previsualizing Narnia; Talking Animals; Walking Trees: The Magical World Of Narnia; Secrets of the Duel; Becoming Trumpkin; Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik

The Pitch

Narnia in the Age Of Reason. But we still love Jesus and all that.

The Humans

Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Eddie Izzard, and Liam Neeson

The Nutshell

The Pevensie children return to Narnia, and find it a very different, more dangerous, and cynical place than when the left it, and quickly set out to return it to its former glory, with the help of the new outcast heir to the throne, Prince Caspian.

The Lowdown

For what it’s worth, Prince Caspian makes a damn strong case for letting go of the grudge I’ve harbored towards The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe for coasting along to the tune of $300m domestic box office while a Lemony Snicket sequel is stuck in development purgatory, and finding a Stardust fan in the wild is as likely as finding human dignity at Wal*Mart. I can forgive the success of a film so bland, inoffensive and toothless when it’s able to provide a solid foundation for a vastly more interesting, more mature, and just plain better film. Caspian‘s still very much a film crippled by its convictions, however. The film asks some difficult questions in the end, and to its detriment, it doesn’t really have any good answers to go with them, but there’s plenty of grown-up films that ask the same questions, come to more valid conclusions, and none of them had Eddie Izzard voicing a mouse who likes to cut soldiers down at the knees, now, did they?

“Did I mention I go to a magical school where they teach us how to do spells and potions, and–“
“Yeah! How do you–“
“Jog on.”

Where TLTWATW (still worst initialism ever, by the way) came off more like a Narnian travelogue than an actual story, Caspian starts by tearing down everything we know from that first film, and replacing it with honest-to-God tension. In the 1300 Narnian years the Pevensie children have been gone from Narnia (only about 1 of our Earth years), a tribe of people called Telmarines have moved in, and in that typical European bastardly way, ethnically and magically cleansed Narnia, ushering in a new age of science and reason, while anything that so much as reeks of fairy dust or sparkles gets its throat cut. Aslan is back to being nothing more than a myth, the Pevensies’ reign as rulers of Narnia is ancient history, the remaining mythical creatures in the world can only lament their fate in exile, and the one human willing to atone for humanity’s slights against the Narnians, Prince Caspian, is being denied the throne, and hunted by his scheming uncle, Miraz.

To say the least, Narnia ain’t exactly a place where a kid can be a kid anymore, which is bound to shock the hell out of any parent looking for the same sterile mess the first Narnia turned out to be. Where the Pevensies were led by the hand through all Narnia’s troubles in the first film, shielded in some way or another from any real danger, the kids are waist deep in peril from minute one this time around, a peril only compounded a few minutes later when they join up with Prince Caspian and the remaining exiles to try and take Narnia back during a nighttime raid on the Telmarines. It’s around here that a body count starts up, and it’s impressive not just for how brutal it is for a PG film, but how none of it seems gratuitous for the sake of dragging more teenagers into the seats. We see through the the scheming of Miraz’ cabinet and the mercilessness of his army that Narnia simply *must* be taken back by force. While the warfare is mostly bloodless, the film doesn’t flinch on it, either, leading to some of the strongest, and most unsettling images in the film. Later on, the film takes that same steady hand when it comes to the moral issues. After the raid fails, some genuinely tough decisions regarding the needs of the many/few are made on the heroes’ part, weighed against blind belief that Aslan will/won’t return to fight all Narnia’s battles for them, in particular during an encounter with the White Queen (Tilda Swinton, milking her 2 minutes in this movie for all they’re worth), and for the vast majority of the film’s running time, it seems like a truly great fantasy film is in the making here.

At first, Trumpkin and the Pevensies all had their hesitations about disemboweling the cameraman, the hunter, and his wife, but all they had to do was look at the hand prints on that bear to know they did the right thing.

The problems arise when the film tries to wrap up that subtext. The running question in the film is the extent to which people can rely on their logic and intellect at the expense of faith, and the circumstances in which people can be shifted one way or another. Once again, the film relies on Aslan to personify this entire argument, not in such a heavy handed manner as its predecessor, but arguably in a much more annoying one. A thread is established early in the film that for some half-assed reason, Lucy Pevensie is the only one who can see and hear Aslan moving in the forest, and it later comes down to her to find him, alert him to all that’s happening, and bring him and some of his forest friends to the final battle. I’m not sure if there was any other way to end a film about faith and magic on anything less than a Deus Ex Machina, but it still undercuts the film from the spiritual ambiguity that kept it interesting through most of its running time.

Of course, this is a big budget blockbuster fantasy film, and on that level and many others, it succeeds in so many ways The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe didn’t, it’s harder to let that affect how much more positive I am on the film as a whole. Andrew Adamson’s direction is far less stunted this time around, giving his environment and his actors, real and digital, some much needed breathing room. The action takes a drastic leap from the first film, not just because of the brutality, though that certainly helps, but some actual technical chops that make me wonder if Adamson went back to film school for a semester before making this flick. There’s an intense one on one sword fight at the film’s climax that stunned me at how much it kept me biting my nails. The effects are definitely more consistent this time, a much better mix of CG and practical effects that, a few minor weak spots aside (the Water God in particular is Mummy Returns terrible), makes Narnia feel alive, and not just an Best Effects Oscar consideration reel.

Prince Caspian‘s a solid, enjoyable film, in the end. The monsters more memorable, the stakes higher, the tone engaging. The film’s overall moral being very distinctly Christian in the end is not the film’s fault in particular, and in the heat of the moment, it’s easy enough to just take the Judeo-Christian allegory and just run with it as the only logical place the film could go. That’s probably the film’s true statement on religion right there. Long as you don’t think about it TOO much, there’s plenty to love.

“Narnia was once beautiful, magical country, Cornelius. It is shameful what has become of it.”
“I remember its glory well, my prince. It is heartbreaking.”
“….this used to be my playgroooound.”
“This used to be my childhood dreeeeam…..”

The Package

On the presentation side, the audio and video are both top notch. It’s a darker film than its predecessor most of the time, for sure, but watching the two films back to back, there’s a noticeable jump in video quality from the first film to this one thats just impressive for a standard DVD these days.

As for the bonus features, this is the one aspect of the filmed Narnia series where it’s NOT an insult to be called LOTR-lite. Unlike most non-animated Disney DVDs, the features in this set eschew the happy-go-lucky fluff in favor of some actual substance, with a tone and structure highly reminiscent of the LOTR Extended Editions. The commentary is an easy listen, with Andrew Adamson and the kids striking a good balance between the technical side of things, and set anecdotes/teasing. The rest of the bonuses are broken down on the second disc and here, you get a real sense of the scale, the comeraderie on set, and the genuine good vibes just radiating off every minute. There’s some occasional pandering while people explain what pre-viz is, and a featurette that should’ve been a more indepth look at the underlying themes of this movie, but really comes off as typical, Disney, “power of magic” hokiness. Another featurette skirts with the idea of going in depth as to why certain changes were made from the book, even going so far as to have C.S. Lewis’ stepson step in as a kind of tour guide, but it’s focused more on production design than anything else.

Any other day, Aslan might have laughed along with everyone else, but today, the fate of an entire kingdom lay in the balance, and now was NOT the time for Peter to belt out the opening notes to “Circle of Life”.

The deleted scenes are pretty inconsequential, though there are a few nice beats here and there (the dead dryad, Susan and Caspian’s archery, “Mom never had that talk with you?”). The bloopers are entertaining. There’s a featurette about the Peter/Miraz duel that doesn’t last long enough, but covers quite a bit of ground, and has a cameo from WETA’s Richard Taylor that reminded me how much I missed hearing that man’s voice on a DVD once a year. Both Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis get their own 5-6 minute featurettes, the kind of featurettes that ordinarily grate the nerves but come off light, breezy, and enjoyable here. Even with the weaker features, there’s not hint of the boredom or weariness that tends to permeate family films, even in the 3-Disc edition of the first film. It won’t answer every question you might have about production (I’d have killed for a breakdown of the Telmarine raid from storyboard to finished product), butthere’s nothing to regret watching either.

On a final, tangentally related note, since when did Michael Kamen’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves score become the Disney anthem??

8.4 out of 10