November 19, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Rise of the Guardians

ANIMATED:

United States, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-11-21

Running Length:

1:37

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

(voices) Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Isla Fisher

Director:

Peter Ramsey

Screenplay:

David Lindsay-Abaire, based on The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce

Music:

Alexandre Desplat

U.S. Distributor:

Paramount Pictures

Subtitles:

none


The summer of 2012 was dismal for animated fare but, with releases like Frankenweenie, Wreck-It Ralph, and Rise of the Guardians, things have taken a turn for the better during the autumn. This movie, which is targeted at older children (rather than pre-schoolers), explores the unconventional premise of establishing certain well-known mythical characters as superheroes. So we have a Russian-accented, tattooed, sword wielding Santa Clause (voice of Alec Baldwin), an Australian boomerang-throwing Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), a Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher) who looks like a cross between a woman and a humming bird, and a silent, benevolent Sandman. Sort of a League of Extraordinary Legends. From story to execution, Rise of the Guardians feels like a hybrid of conventional animation and material like The Avengers.

The viewer's portal of entry into this world is Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine), the latest addition to the group. Jack is an unwilling hero - he would prefer to roam the world on his own, freezing ponds and causing snow days. The Easter Bunny has a beef with him because of his penchant for wrecking the spring holiday with reminders of winter, but Santa's okay with his weather-making skills. The Tooth Fairy admires his shiny white teeth. The world's children are threatened by Pitch (voice of Jude Law), a.k.a. The Boogie Man, who wants to turn dreams into nightmares and banish belief in Santa, Bunny, and Tooth. Jack reluctantly agrees to help and, in the process, discovers the true hero within.

The movie unfolds at a brisk pace, with plenty of adventure, humor, and moments of surprising emotional depth. Pitch's reasons for being bad boast an interesting backstory and, although Jack's journey is similar to that of almost every budding superhero, there are some intriguing twists. Although Rise of the Guardians isn't a Christmas film (in fact, it takes place in the March/April timeframe), the importance of Santa as the leader of the Guardians makes it feel like a seasonal offering.

The film's visual appeal is strong. The characters are rendered as leaner and meaner than what we're used to seeing, with Santa being portrayed as a warrior and the Easter Bunny as anything but a cute little rabbit. The "cuddly" aspect is reserved for Tooth's army of apprentices and Santa's clueless elves. The mythical environments we see - the North Pole, the Bunny's hole, and Pitch's domain - are effectively rendered. Rise of the Guardians makes good use of 3-D, not overdoing it with ostentatious flourishes but not being so subtle that the viewer is largely unaware of it. Is 3-D necessary to one's enjoyment of the movie? No, but this is one time I can justify recommending payment of the surcharge.

The voice actors do what voice actors are expected to do in roles like these: preserve their anonymity. Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman have recognizable voices, but they disguise them effectively. (In fact, I didn't know Baldwin was Santa until I saw the end credits.) Chris Pine and Isla Fisher don't do much to hide their voices (although Fisher adopts an American accent), but they don't need to. The only one immediately recognizable is Jude Law, but Pitch, who bears a striking resemblance to Hades from Disney's Hercules, is so deliciously evil that the character quickly shakes off any associations we may have with the actor.

There's less comedy in Rise of the Guardians than in many animated films, but that's understandable given the epic scale of the adventure. That's not to say there's no humor, but it's kept in the background and often involves Santa's elves or the North Pole Yeti. Rise of the Guardians was made with the obvious intention of being the origin story for a new animated superhero franchise and, if the film is profitable, there will be a sequel in another two or three years. However, even if there's never a follow-up chapter, Rise of the Guardians is enjoyable as a stand-alone adventure - not groundbreaking animation but a solidly entertaining 90 minutes for older children and adults.

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