The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Opens: Friday, May 16 (Walt Disney Pictures)
The lion is back, the witch puts in an appearance, but that musty old wardrobe has been put out of commission in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," a worthy if somewhat less wondrous successor to that 2005 phenomenon.
Several shades darker in tone than the previous edition -- which, to be fair, didn't carry the burden of expectation that a sequel must bear -- the return to Narnia still casts a transporting spell that should nicely build on that $745 million worldwide foundation.
The second installment in C.S. Lewis' seven-part fantasy series, "Prince Caspian" finds the four Pevensie siblings (Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell) a year older and quite a bit wiser when they're summoned back to Narnia.
But 1,300 years have passed in their beloved home away from home, which has become a more savage place under the tyrannical reign of the evil King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), who plots to ensure that the rightful heir to the throne will no longer be his nephew, Prince Caspian (British stage actor Ben Barnes), but his own newborn son.
Having fled his would-be killers, Caspian joins forces with Narnia's youthful kings and queens to take down Miraz, with a little help from Trumpkin the Red Dwarf (a heavily disguised Peter Dinklage) and Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard), a valiant mouse rather reminiscent of "Shrek's" Puss in Boots.
Given that the sequel is again directed by Andrew Adamson, who also was behind those first two "Shrek" movies, that shouldn't come as a complete surprise, but the more somber "Caspian" also shares elements with the second "Lord of the Rings" installment, "The Two Towers," as well as the later, moodier "Harry Potter" editions.
The loss-of-innocence theme of the first "Narnia" is significantly deepened in the script, written again by Adamson along with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, lending itself to that darker look.
But there's still much to appreciate in those gorgeous special effects and grand-scale battle sequences, not to mention Dinklage's terrific turn as the curmudgeonly Red Dwarf who handily manages to outmaneuver the title character as Narnia's most colorful new inhabitant.
Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, Mark Johnson/Silverbell Films
Cast: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Peter Dinklage.
Director: Andrew Adamson; Screenwriters: Andrew Adamson & Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely; Executive producer: Perry Moore; Producers: Mark Johnson, Andrew Adamson, Philip Steuer; Director of Photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub ; Production Designer: Roger Ford; Music: Harry Gregson-Williams; Costume Designer: Isis Mussenden; Editor: Sim Evan Jones.
Rated PG, 137 minutes.