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The Independent Critic

VOCAL WORK BY
Chris Pine, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Alec Baldwin, Dakota Goyo, Hugh Jackman
DIRECTED BY
Peter Ramsey, William Joyce
SCREENPLAY
William Joyce (Book "The Guardians of Childhood"), David Lindsey-Abaire
MPAA RATING
Rated PG
RUNNING TIME
97 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
DreamWorks Animation
DVD/BLU-RAY EXTRAS
Rise of the Guardians Blu-ray Bonus Features
  • Jack Frost Snowball Showdown! Game
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors with Sandy Game
  • “Behind the Magic”
  • “Dreaming Up the Look”
  • “Naughty & Nice: Designing Memorable Characters”
  • “Enchanting Effects”
  • “Creating an Epic Score”
  • “The Man Behind the Guardians”—about author William Joyce
  • “Dreamers and Believers”
  • “Sandy’s Dream Guide”
  • Filmmakers’ Commentary—With director Peter Ramsey and producers Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein.
Rise of the Guardians DVD Bonus Features
  • “Dreamers and Believers”
  • “Sandy’s Dream Guide”
  • More Magic (DVD-ROM)—Printable egg holders, coloring sheets and more
  • Filmmakers’ Commentary with director Peter Ramsay and producers Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein
  • Previews
  •  
 "Rise of the Guardians" Tries Too Hard to Capture the Magic 
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It's not often that a film tries as hard as Rise of the Guardians tries to become a holiday classic.

The bad news is that Rise of the Guardians is not and will not be a holiday classic. The good news is that, despite falling short of its obviously lofty vision for itself, Rise of the Guardians is still a fine way to kick off the 2012 holiday season.

Based upon a book called The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce, who co-directs the film, Rise of the Guardians has moments where it rivals even Pixar but, unfortunately, such a level of magnificence isn't maintained in favor of a broadness that more ranks it with your usual Hollywood animated fare.

The story kicks off with Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a rather misguided force of nature who can't seem to remember his roots and who lives a lonely existence because he can't be seen nor heard by the children with whom he's completely infatuated. Jack exists in a world alongside Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the silent Sandman and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher). This is a world where such beings are unquestionably real and are assigned the role of "Guardians" to the universe and its children. When the Bogeyman (Jude Law) surfaces with a plan to make all the world's children stop believing in anything but fear and darkness, the Guardians are called into action and Jack becomes destined to join them in their mission.

If you're looking for a cutesie holiday film that will enchant the kiddoes and reinforce the American stereotype of beloved holiday figures, this ain't it. Santa Claus here is portrayed as more of a Slavic muscleman with tats and 'tude. While he's definitely portrayed as a good guy here, he's got more of an edge than you might expect from the iconic figure known as Santa Claus.

It's the same story for the Easter Bunny, perhaps even moreso. Far from a warm and fuzzy bunny, this Easter Bunny is bigger and taller and more abrasive, at least until one particular scene near film's end. On more than one occasion, Donnie Darko flashed in my mind. Fortunately, I really love Donnie Darko.

On the flip side, Tooth Fairy is almost stereotypically cutesie and wonderfully voiced by the always spot on Isla Fisher. The silent Sandman, as well, will give even the smallest children someone with whom to identify within the film.

At times, Rise of the Guardians felt a bit like Hop to me - it felt like it was missing a bit and perhaps one step behind itself. While it nearly always entertains, it occasionally feels just a touch off its pace. The film works on the strength of its remarkably imaginative production team and a 3-D experience that immerses you into the story rather than throws stuff at the screen. While you can just as easily enjoy the film in 2-D, this is one of those rare occasions where the extra couple of bucks may very well prove to be worth it.

Jude Law's portrayal of the Bogeyman, known as Pitch, may prove to be the most debatable character in the film. You'll either embrace his devilish and debonair style or you'll wince at a bad guy who seems almost stereotypically effeminate rather than particularly menacing.

The biggest problem with Rise of the Guardians is that it simply tries too hard to emphasize that all important childlike wonder and innocence, but in trying so hard it actually at times seems to contradict it. The film at times felt like it was trying to convey that same message as Elf, though Elf had the wisdom to not confine all the wonderful traits of wonder, innocence and belief to only children. By essentially assigning these traits to children, the film's central theme seems ill-fated even if it does all work out in the end within the context of this film.

Yet, the film also possesses a remarkable sincerity for its message that helps it survive and even thrive. This sincerity may very well be why, in the end, Rise of the Guardians still works. The film feels like a more traditional holiday tale constructed using the most contemporary of technology. In many ways, it feels like we're being taken inside the "origin story" of each character and it's within their stories that their "center," as Santa calls it, is given birth. Santa, for example, has a "center" of wonder. He's able to see and celebrate the wonder of life and people everywhere he goes. Each of our guardians has a center and, indeed, so do you and I.

Rise of the Guardians isn't a masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable film and very well suited for this time of year. Children are very likely to enjoy it, though younger children may find themselves a tad frightened with certain scenes involving Pitch. Adults, as well, may be enchanted by the little tidbits of holiday myth and magic tossed into the film that add substance and significance to the film. With a straightforward sweetness and sincerity, Rise of the Guardians falls shy of being one of the year's best animated features but for those wanting to transition into the holiday spirit it may very well be just what the doctor ordered.

Or Santa.

Or the Easter bunny.

Or Sandman.

Or Jack Frost.

Or hey. Maybe the Bogeyman?

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
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    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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