Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians is a frustrating animated picture. It takes a really interesting idea, and has some very enjoyable moments, but on the whole isn’t all that interesting and feels much longer than its 97 minute running time would suggest. It’s easy to see the film appealing to its young target audience, but if you’re hoping for the next How to Train Your Dragon, you’re going to leave disappointed. This is a film for those who still believe in Santa Claus.

The basic idea here is that a bunch of folkloric people and creatures team up to stop an evil force that threatens to ruin holidays and the dreams of children everywhere. The team, as the movie begins, consists of Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin, donning an Eastern European accent), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman, in his native Australian accent, presumably only so other characters can call Bunny a “kangaroo”), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher, in an American accent), and a mute Sandman. The force they need to stop is Pitch Black (Jude Law, trying so hard to sound evil).

Apparently, they can’t do it alone, because the Man in the Moon decides that another Guardian is needed. The chosen one is Jack Frost (Chris Pine, as bland as he has ever been), who spent the last 300 years fooling around. The film doesn’t take a long time to establish this premise, which was refreshing. We don’t get introductory scenes for each member, for instance; we cut right to the chase and the planning stage about how to stop the villain’s devious plot.

However, for whatever reason, after the team is assembled, and is ready for war, we spend a great deal of time with menial chores. Pitch starts targeting the Guardians one by one, making the children of the world stop believing in them. Teeth don’t get collected one night, kids cease believing in the Tooth Fairy, and she subsequently loses her power. So, to prevent this, the Guardians have to, at least twice — although I might have dozed off during a third time — perform the tasks that the targeted individual would do on a daily basis.

What makes this more frustrating, apart from the fact that it feels like filler and stalling, is that there are also two instances of action happening off-screen, and having some of the team show up too late, and then being told what happened. These seemed like they’d be big action scenes, but we only get them described to us instead of getting to see them occur. Replace the two menial activities and give us these scenes, movie. It’s not like it would be much of an increase in the already large ($145 million) budget.

The action is generally quite fun, too, which furthers my disappointment. It’s a bit fast, with the camera flying around at what seems like a million miles per hour, but there are some cool effects, and who doesn’t want to see Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny fight the Boogeyman? That premise alone justifies the movie’s existence. It’s just too bad that more wasn’t done with this. These characters have been retooled to be action heroes, but they only get to be that in the last half hour or so.

A deus ex machina happens in the final few moments of the last action scene, which (by definition) comes out of nowhere but doesn’t even try to be explained by the film. It just happens, everyone accepts it, and then we move on. Younger children probably won’t care, but parents and older kids will notice and question the film. It wouldn’t even be that hard to explain — and Rise of the Guardians looks like it’s going to make an attempt to do so and then just ignores that attempt afterward — so I have to wonder if the reason got cut somewhere along the line.

DreamWorks’ animated studio is one that makes good looking films — at least, until the human or human-like characters get involved. The backgrounds are detailed, animals look great, and even clothing looks just fine. But there’s always something about the humans, in particular their faces and skin, that is jarring. Santa Claus is a great example of this in Rise of the Guardians. His beard and hair look great, but his face looks like it’s made of processed cheese. Jack Frost and Pitch Black look even worse, as they have no facial hair to cover up part of their faces.

Rise of the Guardians also has an odd issue with its secondary characters being more interesting and humorous than its leads. Jack Frost is the protagonist, and is the most bland of the characters. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are more enjoyable. However, Claus has elves and yetis that steal the show, while the Tooth Fairy has mini-faeries that are funnier and more interesting than she is. We needed more time with these characters, but we have to focus on Frost and his dull, predictable character arc.

Rise of the Guardians is a failure, but I can see the potential and if it happens to make a lot of money, a sequel isn’t something that I’d root against. It needed to take more risks, possibly calm down the camera, and be more of a shower, not a teller (and hire someone with more enthusiasm than Chris Pine for the lead), but the premise is solid and there is a lot of talent behind it. The franchise could make a believer out of me yet.

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