Fine second effort for ‘Chronicles’ series

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” the much-anticipated sequel to the 2005 “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” is easier to understand and far more believable than its predecessor. Despite a sagging middle, it is an exciting fantasy.

The timeline between the first film and the new one is 1,300 years. Heroes - known as Kings and Queens - Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) exist between two worlds. They are students living in WWII-era London until they are transported back to the land of Narnia where Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) needs their help and blows a magic horn that once belonged to Susan.

The Pevensie children are saddened and perplexed at what they find. The one-year in their time, 1,300 in Narnia time, has not been kind to Cair Paravel, their former palatial castle. It now sets atop a cliff in virtual ruin.

Unlike the first movie, the characters - both human and animated - are far more enduring this time. Reepicheep is both hilarious and insightful in his expressions, and kids will find him and his mouse comrades the center of their attention. Trufflehunter is far wiser and equally entertaining and amuses both kids and adults. The 40 makeup artists who created the centaurs and other Narnian inhabitants have achieved incredible results. Kids will be asking questions about the centaurs for days.

In the three years since the first film, the actors who played the Pevensie children have grown from playing interesting characters to wonderful actors. Each scene of them in the new movie reflects the depth of their belief in their own character and creates a very convincing story. Lucy’s (Henley) wide-eyed innocence and search to find her beloved Aslan is tempered by a mature patience and ability to overcome anything thrown at the children. Anna Popplewell walks a fine line as the hesitant older sister who is discovering a true affection for Caspian. Both brothers (Moseley, Keynes) step up to the plate in their sword-fighting expertise and plotting their next moves.

Tilda Swinton’s very brief scene as the Ice Queen is worthy of every tingling moment she’s on the screen. You’ll remember her face long after you leave the theater. The ever-resilient Dinklage, almost unrecognizable by his makeup, is another key figure in this engaging tale. While Barnes (“Stardust”) is a pretty face that will have teen appeal for the girls, his acting abilities pale to those of the kids playing the Pevensie children.

“Chronicles of Narnia” fans will not be disappointed in this rousing fantasy. Fans will also be delighted to know that the next sequel, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” is in preproduction and slated for a 2010 release.