Almost every wonderful moment you had during childhood that didn’t involve your parents or friends was thanks to such characters such as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. As a child you were convinced of their magic. But what if these entities were challenged? What if all those figures who we perceived as the ones responsible for our happiness and wonder were up against an evil that aimed to end that belief and joy? My review of Rise of the Guardians after the jump.
A Russian Santa Clause(Alec Baldwin), an Australian Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), an American Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Sandman (who stays mute the entire film but I suspect may be Bolivian) are all “guardians” who go up against a British villain known as ‘Pitch Black’, better recognized as the boogeyman (Jude Law), who steals dreams and turns them into nightmares, thus resulting in kids not believing in the aforementioned “guardians”. Now if this isn’t a blatant portrayal of a meeting in the United Nations Embassy, then I don’t know what is.
The fate of humanity (or in other words, the happiness and joy of children everywhere) relies on one other fantastical figure, the one and only ‘Jack Frost’. Haven’t heard of him? No, not that creepy Michael Keaton movie where he turns into a snowman and haunts his family, Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is the guy responsible for snow, winter…and well all forms of ice, for that matter. Not all that aware of him? Don’t worry, neither is anyone else in the world. If Frost can accompany the foreign band of merry creatures that are responsible for every happy childhood in existence and stop the evil Pitch Black from poisoning dreams, then Frost will be recognized as a true figure or “guardian” for kids to believe in. Can they stop Pitch? Will Frost finally be recognized as a maker of magic and wonder like he deserves? And will childhood wonder be restored by the guardians who created it?
Okay, so I have always had one serious problem with family films as a whole (Pixar is the exception to all rules) and that is, after the first 40 or so minutes when the fun and excitement is established, the conflict kicks in and makes things dire and fearful. This is of course as expected, but it’s at that moment where kids films then drown in sentiment. The lesson of it all begins to appear and all the humour and fun we had at first simply goes away or significantly lessens.
Rise of the Guardians is I’m afraid, not an exception to this. The first half of this film is inventive and funny and the timing of each gag is almost impeccable. There is great voice work from the entire cast, with big shout out going to Baldwin as Russian Santa and Jackman as a bush ranger sounding Australian Easter Bunny, providing a lot of the fun and laughs. It is however that dreaded second half when Pitch (Law) really gets to work on his dastardly devious plan that the fun ends almost completely and all these great characterisations and story developments simply become…well, boring.
The direction by Peter Ramsey, who’s worked on the art department for many Hollywood blockbusters and knows his stuff, which is evident with every frame containing some form of visual wonder. Whether it’s in the various places and cities we visit, or purely for visual gags, the animation and effects are great. The screenplay however is where it falters, and in keeping with that tired family film structure it almost undoes all the fun that is had. If only the message of the film didn’t have to be delivered in such an obvious and heavy-handed way, it may have given way to the rest of the characters shining through the dark material and not just the villain.
Despite the criticisms mentioned (which hark back to my distaste for the formula of family film) there is much fun to be had with Rise of the Guardians, with original and refreshingly unique character portrayals of beloved figures we all grew up recognising. It won’t keep everyone happy, but for an hour and a half of time-wasting during the holiday season with young kids or your friends who admire a nice kids film once in a while, this might be one of your safer bets.
By Chris Elena
Director: Peter Ramsey
Writer(s): David Lindsay-Abaire, William Joyce (Novel)
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law
Runtime: 97 minutes
Release Date(s) Australia: December 13, 2012; New Zealand: January 3, 2013; USA: November 21, 2012