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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Rise of the Guardians
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by Jay Seaver

"Believe in... Well, enjoy the pretty pictures, at least."
3 stars

When writing about something like "Rise of the Guardians", I sort of wish I lived close enough to my brothers that I could borrow a niece to come with me and tell me what she thinks afterwards. There's a contradiction at the heart of this movie - it builds a complex mythology around the likes of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and I wonder if it's too much to grasp for those young enough to really buy into it. The ambition is admirable and often impressively realized, but who does it fully work for?

The basic story is graspable enough: Pitch Black (voice of Jude Law), the Bogeyman, has learned how to hijack the pleasant dreams sent by the Sandman, which leads Sandy and the other Guardians of Childhood - Santa Claus (voice of Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), and the Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher) to meet at the North Pole, where the Man in the Moon informs them that their group will need a new member to counter this threat: Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine). Of course, Jack's not interested in that sort of responsibility, and most of the other Guardians are none to fond of him anyway.

Give the folks at DreamWorks (and original Guardians of Childhood author William Joyce) their due: There are a lot of variants on the "legends and folklore characters are real") angle floating around right now, but this is certainly one of the most eye-catching. Santa's workshop, the Easter Bunny's warren, the Tooth Fairy's headquarters and Pitch's dark mirror thereof are all gorgeously, ornately designed, impressive combinations of polish and whimsy built from the ground up to look especially amazing in 3D. The influence of executive producer Guillermo del Toro is definitely felt with that loving attention to detail, and the character designs combine action-ready angularity with a comforting softness atop that muscle.

The voices chosen to help bring those characters to life are an entertaining bunch, too, although the mute Sandman and "Baby Tooth" are among the most enjoyably expressive characters of the group. Chris Pine does all right in giving Jack a sense of arrested development (he's been a teenager for a very long time), while Jude Law is nicely malevolent as Pitch (kids have to recognize that what he's saying may sound good to Jack but not fall for it themselves. Isla Fisher makes Tooth sound flighty but capable, while both Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin seem to have a blast making the Easter Bunny and Santa tough guys, though still quite jolly.

Some of the characterizations are kind of odd,though - Santa being Russian and the Easter Bunny Australian are kind of random additions, and the bit where the baby teeth the Tooth Fairy collects store childhood memories seems less organic as opposed to something the plot needed right then. Bits of dialogue might actually work as a good introduction to the concepts of characterization and the power of faith and mythology to a smart kid, but the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire applies them somewhat haphazardly. And as much as I don't think this set-up works any other way, it's kind of weird for the movie to go on about belief and mythology while treating Christmas and Easter as totally secular holidays.

The scale and tone can be all over the map, too - there's a sequence in the middle which is played as a fun, light-hearted competition despite coming on the heels of a pretty big win for Pitch. It's well-done in isolation, and maybe kids won't find the temporary ignorance of the danger they're in a big deal, but their parents may want the heroes to stop screwing around. The climactic battle is also well-staged, but the repeated focus on a couple of kids in small-town America when the filmmakers make efforts to make the story big is also a little odd.

Even taken together, these issues are not nearly enough to make "Rise of the Guardians" a bad movie; it's a heck of a lot better than the description of "Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and friends fight the bogeyman" would have one believe. The individual pieces are fun in the moment, and few kids young enough to believe in the Easter Bunny are going to worry too much about how the attempt to make them into a self-referential whole turns out.

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originally posted: 11/28/12 12:34:56
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User Comments

4/08/19 Kengh I don't really like the protagonist of Jack Frost. 1 stars
6/18/14 Haley S. This was a really creative and interesting movie. The animation is beautiful as well. 4 stars
10/10/13 Charles Tatum Lovely direction, imaginative, and Law's villain steals every scene 4 stars
3/08/13 Daniel High Very enjoyable, great characters. Story becomes thin at points though. 3 stars
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  21-Nov-2012 (PG)
  DVD: 12-Mar-2013


  DVD: 12-Mar-2013

Directed by
  Peter Ramsey

Written by
  David Lindsay-Abaire

  Chris Pine
  Alec Baldwin
  Hugh Jackman
  Isla Fisher
  Jude Law

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