"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is a kid flick of the sort that "Speed Racer," the first bomb of spring, proved so expensively not to be. "Racer" buried a piddling TV cartoon under a digital avalanche of mad, eye-bashing visuals. "Caspian," the second of the "Narnia" pictures, is old-school Disney, filled with cozily crafted sets, frankly theatrical lighting and golden-age moral values. Unlike the first film, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," this one is also a full-bore action yarn, thick with sword fights and clamorous, dark-agey battles. But there are no severed limbs flying through the air here; there's barely even any blood. Walt would be proud.
Once again we accompany the stalwart Pevensie siblings — Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) — as they journey from 1941 London to the magical kingdom of Narnia, where all is not well. It's been only a year since the brood's last visit (the one on which they were crowned kings and queens of the realm), but in Narnian time it's been a millennium. Now the enchanted land writhes under the evil boot of the Telmarines, a horde of hateful invaders commanded by a blackguard named Miraz (the extravagantly hissable Sergio Castellitto). Miraz took over the top spot from his brother, the king, whom he murdered; then he schemed to kill his brother's son, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), in order to occupy the throne himself.
Tipped off, though, Caspian fled the royal castle for the sheltering forest, where he marshaled an unlikely army of badgers, dwarves, centaurs and what have you. (There's an especially amusing martial mouse voiced by Eddie Izzard.) It seems a doomed battle, though, until, at lowest ebb, Caspian blows a legendary horn to summon the "kings and queens of old" — the Pevensies, that is — who upon arrival attempt to locate the godlike lion Aslan (given voice once more by Liam Neeson), who in the last film, you'll recall, was sacrificed, resurrected and all but decked with boughs of Christmas holly.
Aslan turns the tide, of course, with the spirited assistance of the Pevensie kids, precocious masters of sword and bow. There is much intrigue and family strife — key ingredients for any really stirring kid picture. There's also a minimal pinch of chaste romance (get it over with!) and virtually nonstop combat. The young actors are fine, even if unable to put the sort of iconic stamp on their roles that the "Harry Potter" cast has managed so indelibly. And the action, although generally rousing, still feels a little second-hand — where have we seen that besieged fortress, those giant catapults, that vengeful tree army before? Also, this movie, like the first one, seems seriously overlong at nearly two and a half hours.
But who am I to quibble? This is a picture for kids (although one their elders won't have much trouble sitting through). At the screening I attended, the audience was well-salted with preteen enthusiasts; they whooped happily throughout the movie, and cheered with delight at the end. I yield to their more enlightened judgment.
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