A Golden Globe Best Animated Feature nominee in 2012, a reasonably tough year, Rise of the Guardians may not have taken home the award, but it had met with success at the box office. I’d marked it down as one to watch before it came out, but only just now managed to catch up with it. I’m glad I did. This may technically be a freshman effort for director Peter Ramsey — though an accomplished storyboard artist, his only previous directing work was on a TV special — but it’s quite a good film.
The film is based off a book series titled The Guardians of Childhood (which probably would have made a better title for the film, but I’ll not knock it too hard for that.) It tells the story of Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) being drafted into service with other legendary figures of children’s stories to defend belief against the forces of the bogeyman.
Just at the conceptual level, it’s a fun idea. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and Jack Frost all teaming up to do battle is one of those rare ideas that’s both a bit silly and yet also something that genuinely sounds like it would be great to see. Sort of like The Avengers, just with holiday figures (well, some holidays; you get my drift, anyway.) And on a pure spectacle level, it works as well. The action is choreographed brilliantly, and the visual effects are second to none, whether it’s Jack creating fractal patterns in the ice, or the Sandman creating dreams from sculptured sand. The characters are inventively designed, looking true to who they’re supposed to be, while also being visually distinct from any other portrayals.
Of course, just looking pretty isn’t enough. There has to be a good story and good characters as well. In this case, the story is mostly served from the character development, which is generally effective. Pitch the Bogeyman (voiced with adept villainy by Jude Law) seeks to drive out the Guardians and retake the darkness that was once his domain, plunging the world back into fear. While unquestionably evil, there are occasionally notes of sympathy struck, as his anger is largely at being forgotten; this is paralleled with Jack Frost, who has yet to be seen by any of people in the world, and who wonders why he doesn’t get any recognition. The interactions between Jack and the other characters provide both the heart of the film and the bulk of the humor. Santa Claus is still jolly, but he’s also a boisterous bruiser, voiced with faux-Russian accent by Alec Baldwin. The Easter Bunny, voiced by Hugh Jackman, is downright surly. Isla Fisher provides the voice of the Tooth Fairy, depicted here as being similar to a hummingbird both in appearance and in flightiness. The Sandman, meanwhile, is voiceless, and is often dozing off himself.
Apparently you can be asleep on the job even when sleep is your job.
It’s a fun adventure, with just enough scary stuff to keep it interesting but not so much that it would really bother most kids. And adults will enjoy the adventure and the humor as well. Dreamworks Animation has the potential for another series here if they want to take it.
Side note: While the events of the film mostly wind up being around Easter, the presence of Santa Claus and the December release led me to think it would be appropriate for my Christmas Cinema reviews. I still think it’s close enough to count.