Review: Rise of the Guardians
PLOT: Tired of being relegated to the shadows, the evil and mischievous villain Pitch plots to rid the world of magic and hope. Thankfully the Immortal Guardians – North, Tooth, Sandman, Bunnymund with the help of Jack Frost – attempt to restore the children’s belief in fairy tales and legends and defeat the darkness.
Who knew that a fanciful tale of Jack Frost, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny could be so infectiously entertaining? In the new feature from DreamWorks Animation RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, the characters created by children’s author William Joyce come to life. Well, obviously the iconic figures that make up the Guardians were not invented by Joyce, yet he successfully reinvented them into modern day folk heroes. His detailed mythology has been translated into a feature film extraordinarily well thanks to director Peter Ramsey and screenwriter David Lindsey-Abaire – also with the help of executive producer Guillermo del Toro.
The story begins with Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) as he discovers his powers to “freeze” anything and everything with his magical wooden staff – hey, mind out of the gutter folks. Frost’s “birth” is actually quite a beautiful sequence thanks to incredible animation and truly effective 3D. Yet this is only an introduction, since the filmmakers skip ahead 300 years after Jack discovers his powers. Present day, Frost is now a wandering prankster that enjoys starting snowball fights and living vicariously through the kids he inspires – even if they don’t have a clue he exists. However, there is a dark force in the universe, one by the name of Pitch (Jude Law) who – similarly to Frost - is tired of living in the shadows. Yet the villainous baddie has more insidious plans than snowball fights as he has set his sight on world domination with the help of a few “night mares” (shadowy dark horse figures that gallop in the darkness).
Lucky for little ones, we have the “Guardians” who watch over all that is good and right. This includes North aka Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), Tooth aka Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), E. Astor Bunnymund aka the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the silent but powerful Sandman. As ridiculously sappy as this may sound, GUARDIANS is a gleefully heartwarming and exciting animated feature. Focusing on a small group of children who still believe in Santa and magic there is a real sense of hope and childhood wonder in this fable. As the film’s protagonist, Jack Frost is an inspired choice that is made a full-fledged and complex character who must choose whether or not to be a hero.
Smartly, the latest DreamWorks animated adventure takes a decidedly different direction than its predecessors and mostly avoids the obvious jokes and pop culture references in lieu of a good story. The ideas of hope, remembrance and acceptance are explored in an entertaining and a universal way. Even Pitch and his rottenness come across as slightly sympathetic, making him a terrific villain. North, Bunnymund and Tooth are all well drawn out and even a little inspiring – Tooth’s tiny helpers are really super adorable. This is a well-structured cinematic journey that is smart enough for adults looking for something for their kids that is not overly cute or obnoxiously crude.
My one complaint is that as original and heartwarming as it is, why on earth did they have to go the cheap route with the elves. Much like the minions in DESPICABLE ME – yet not nearly as successful - Santa’s little helpers are played for laughs. But they aren’t funny. They aren’t lovable. They are just annoying and obvious. They actually look creepy as opposed to cute. In fact they look like scary little demons with Santa hats – maybe related to the little monsters in PHANTASM. If I found one of these little fellas in my house on Christmas Eve, I would be terrified.
Demon elves aside, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS certainly does rise to the occasion as solid storytelling with wonderful animation and impressive 3D. Great characters and a warm and satisfying story make this a true family film worth seeing. I can almost guarantee that years from now GUARDIANS will be watched every holiday season by children and adults alike - a holiday classic in the making.