Sadly, I think this will probably be the last of the Narnia franchise, which is a shame because this film was beautifully done. While VotDT boasts a much brighter color pallet than "Prince Caspian", the storyline is a bit convoluted and dark for the younger kids to follow.
We open with Lucy and Edmund in England (Peter and Susan are conveniently in America with the parents). Our heroes are stuck staying with their "useless" cousin, Eustace (played to annoying perfection by Will Poulter) and feeling rather put upon. Lucy is struggling on the edge of becoming a woman, and with her feeling overshadowed by how lovely Susan is (a theme that pops up several times in the film)...and Edmund is still feeling like second fiddle to Peter. . . and Eustace is a spoiled brat who believes that he is far superior to everyone and everything around him.
A painting of a ship sailing at sea comes to life, pulling the children into it and they quickly find themselves struggling in a vast ocean with the ship bearing down on them. Being fished out of the sea, the children find that they are on the Dawn Treader, a Narnian ship, and they are reunited with their old friend, Caspian, who is now King of Narnia. They are in the middle of a quest to find locate seven Narnian Lords who had set sail to the far off Lone Islands and are now missing.
Through the course of the film we are re-introduced to Caspian (nicely played by a now-older and wiser Ben Barnes, who also, thankfully, lost a lot of his thick accent) and Reepicheep (who, while voiced admirably by Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead and the new Star Trek, left me more than once missing the adorable quality originally brought to the character by Eddie Izzard). There is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by CS Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham, who plays the first of the Lone Island slave traders) and Tilda Swinson repeats her performance again as the White Witch. Even though she really wasn't a part of Prince Caspian or VotDT, I am enjoying how they still manage to sneak her in....if they do manage to keep filming the books up to "Magician's Nephew" she will be amazing as the Empress Jadis.
A lot more has been added to the story to try and give us a movie that flows, but most of the new scenes fits well with the storyline. I am not so sure about the "mist" but it fits by the end. The special effects are pretty amazing, considering budgets kept getting slashed. The Dawn Treader itself is lavishly rendered and I spent a lot of the sailing time all but drooling over how wonderful a job was done bringing it to life. Seriously, if I could find a model of the DT I would be thrilled.
As I said, the tone of this film is a bit convoluted, but I think it is really worth sticking to the end with. Having seen it tonight in standard 2D, I plan to see it again, however this time in 3D, just to see the ship in better detail....that, and I am sure the climatic battle at the end would be even more thrilling in 3D.
When all is said and done, VotDT is not as tight story-wise as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but we jump into the action a heck of a lot faster. There are a few new characters (Gail was completely unnecessary), however the special effects are the best used yet (the effect of the flood waters pouring out of the painting at the beginning and then receding back into the painting at the end is very well done, Lucy entering the Magician's mansion (and the spells cast there) are gorgeous, and the battle with the *** ******* is flat out freaky). Speaking of which, let me know after you've seen the film if you don't get a Ghostbusters "stay-puft marshmallow man" vibe for a moment at the end of the film (don't worry, you'll know what part of the movie I am talking about when you get there).
So, all-in-all I say this is definitely one to see, but you may want to keep your little ones at home.