Theatrical Review: “Rise of the Guardians”
Directed by: Peter Ramsey
Produced by: Christina Steinberg, Nancy Bernstein; Guillermo del Toro, William Joyce, Michael Siegel (executive producers); Arin Finger (associate producer)
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay); William Joyce (story)
Art Direction by: Alexandre Desplat
Editing by: Joyce Arrastia
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Starring: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law, Dakota Goyo
Based on the book series The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce
Imagine that all the childhood mythological figures were somehow real and were also way more awesome than how they are usually imagined. Imagine, for example, that they were way more like superheroes, and let’s say that, from time to time, they assembled together like some other recent big screen superhero team in order to defend childhood from evil fiends who would like nothing more than to ruin this blissful period of life. That’s essentially the awesome concept behind Rise of the Guardians, an DreamWorks Animation adaptation of the William Joyce books of a similar name. It’s a fairly awesome premise for an action-packed fantasy film, and, for a good while, Rise lives up to its promise, but not without making a few missteps along the way.
Our focal point and gateway into this world is Jack Frost, a playful sprite who was created long ago in a frozen pond by the Man in the Moon. Though Jack is able to interact with the world around him, nobody is able to see him. Unlike with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and, to a lesser extent, the Sandman, nobody ever truly believes that somebody named Jack Frost is “nipping at their nose” when it’s cold out, much to the attention-starved Jack’s frustration. He’s a good sport about it, however, believing firmly that his creator made him for a purpose and having some fun with kids over the years as he searches for his “center.”
Less patient, however, is the Boogeyman himself, Pitch, a dark figure who seeks to destroy hope and rule over children through fear. Similar to Jack, Pitch is known of, but hardly believed in, and so nobody ever notices his presence, nor do they appreciate his particular set of skills. And so Pitch seeks to destroy children’s belief in the Guardians so that they can face the same fate as him. Sensing that the Guardians will need additional help in this endeavor, the invisible but omnipotent Man in the Moon summons Jack to join the Guardians in their battle against Pitch and his dark forces. Throughout their efforts, however, Jack continues to struggle with his identity and questions why he was chosen when he’s basically invisible to the children he’s been asked to defend.
The film has a lot of great ideas, the chief among them being the idea of turning these figures into what are essentially a secret superhero task force. Most of the animation and art direction is spectacular, as well, warranting a trip to the theatre if you’re even remotely interested in seeing it at all — though I did feel that sometimes even the non-supernatural characters were bit too floaty, both in motion and in their visual screen presence against backgrounds. Hair is also inconsistent in design, somewhat doll-like, animated in thick, stiff sheets for some characters, particularly the otherwise cute little girl character, Sophie. It’s easily overlooked and doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall story, but that floaty motion issue literally and figuratively makes the action sequences in particular lose some weight.
Characterizations are pretty much on the same level, with pretty much all of the characters being entertaining enough in their roles, some more so than others. Jack in particular is a fun, amicable hero who is easy to empathize with, and who has legitimate questions about his past without letting his existential crisis become an overbearing annoyance to the audience. His interactions with his fellow supernatural heroes are distinct to each, and his interactions with the children who can’t even see him should get plenty of real world children to wish that he were actually real.
The only real complaints I do have related to the character stems more from what feels like a few omissions in the film’s plotting, rather than anything to do with the actual character himself. (Though I must say that Chris Pine’s voice always feels too old for the spindly sprite, even if his performance is well enough.) While we are provided further information on Jack’s past, once it’s uncovered, he does seem to move on from that information rather easily and quickly, as if there was a period of adjustment that we weren’t privy to see. Similarly, though the parallels between Jack and Pitch are obvious, the film rarely capitalizes on this, and I actually kind of longed for a few scenes where Jack was a bit more ambiguous in his principles. Perhaps a bit of temptation toward the Dark Side was in order?
The supporting cast, featuring the voices of Alec Baldwin (North, a.k.a. Santa Claus), Isla Fisher (Tooth Fairy), Hugh Jackman (Easter Bunny), and Jude Law (Pitch) all do well enough by the material and mostly disappear into their roles, though I can’t say any of them especially stands out, either, which may be for the best. A few times it does seem like they’re overplaying the novelty of an over-sized, Australian bunny with Jackman, but it pulls back at mostly the right moments before it becomes grating, though that’s a precedent that digs a hole for any potential sequel to fall into. (Sandman, in case you think I forgot a key member, is a pantomiming mute. It’s rather fun, actually — kinda like sign language with a sand medium.) The children in the film luckily feel quite authentic, and I never felt as though they were becoming cloying in any way. I also worried that Santa’s elves would be a bit too much like the Minions from Despicable Me, and I’m glad to say that while they are in the same vein, they’re definitely more reserved. Like with the Easter Bunny, however, their schtick could easily get old if they over do it in a sequel.
And, you know, I do kinda hope that they do make a sequel. Rise of the Guardians didn’t exactly blow away in audience attendance records this past Thanksgiving weekend, but it was an above average, mostly entertaining action fantasy that takes place in a wonderful new world that I would happily go to the theatres in order to see what else may take place there. That being said, the outcome is easily foreseen, and the filmmakers stumble along the way in telling us their story. I feel as though I’ve been given a delicious and filling appetizer, but I’ve been left waiting for the main course that I would have taken a few bites out of but inevitably (also happily) need to have packaged and brought home with me. Or something. Anyway, do go see it in theatres if you are reading this and still have a chance. If not, definitely go give it a rent and be entertained. My family liked it enough that I suspect my sister will buy a copy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up borrowing that copy every now and then, either.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5