I thought I was probably in a period of time where it would be difficult to sit back and enjoy what is an animated film aimed squarely at kids, but I was indeed surprised by how Rise of the Guardians, based upon The Guardians of Childhood series created by William Joyce, actually encapsulated all the good stuff, from quality of animation, voice casting and to characterization that was pretty basic but good fun. There are many in the same class of late that tried to be too intellectual, but by keeping things simpler, and never forgetting the fun element, Rise of the Guardians stand out from the pack, and dare I say one of the most enjoyable animated movies of the year.
This is the story of a new Guardian, Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), who's about to join the ranks of other luminaries such as Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and very silent Mr Sandman, all of whom thrive in today's world being the beacon of hope, and everything good, to all the little children of the world. Chosen by The Man in the Moon, the Guardians and the children form a very symbiotic relationship, that the chosen few are there to safeguard the well being of the young, while the latter fuel the powers of the Guardians through sheer belief in their existence. Lose one, and you lose the other side quite quickly.
The narrative develops at breakneck pace, with introduction to the Guardians, their abilities, and the threat from arch enemy Pitch Black (Jude Law) being the boogeyman personified, thriving on fear and nightmares, and hell bent on snuffing out hope and joy amongst the children. There's a running theme of being alone, and forgotten, that pops up every now and then, being the common thread between antagonist, and the new kid on the block, who is confused as to who he is, and what his destiny lies ahead. It's somewhat of a zero to hero story, about finding one's purpose and calling in life, and the making of sacrifices to get there. Wholesome themes somewhat, for young ones to be able to sit through and enjoy.
We would already be very familiar with the many main characters such as Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Easter Bunny, but what Rise of the Guardians managed to do, is to introduce a little spin of fresh air into these characters, making them unique yet retaining many of their iconic traits that make them who they are. This is something I'd really liked, and had kept me engaged, eagerly waiting for yet another surprise to pop up now and then. Santa Claus complete with tattoos, swords and a thick Russian accent? The Tooth Fairy who is part hummingbird? The Easter Bunny as Australian and with something kept up the sleeve by the story tellers for the final act, and how about The Sandman who's a lot more powerful than he looks? And they offer a lot more in terms of abilities, cause and what they bring to the table, limited only by the powers of the filmmakers' imagination.
It's preaching fun, and never to lose sight of having a little fun in life, and the movie walked the talk by filling itself with plenty of side gags, contributed by the many supporting acts each established Guardian came with, such as Santa's tiny elves, and Tooth Fairy's lovelorn fairies who swoon at the presence of Jack Frost, for his perfect pearly whites of course. You'll never look at Santa's lodge and elves in the same way ever again, nor will you at the Tooth Fairy's and Easter Bunny's operations. These unique perspectives, seen and told through the eyes of the protagonist Jack Frost, makes it a journey that we're emotionally vested into from the start, right until the end, and to me they did not disappoint a bit.
While I hadn't watched this in 3D or IMAX versions, there are enough set action pieces that tried to exploit these formats, which I suppose either format would have enveloped the viewer and provided a more vivid experience, especially with characters being made to pursue and battle each other in the air, or the numerous extravaganza moments where the prowess of the characters will wow. The quality of animation is superb and is the score contributed by Alexandre Desplat, and again, the simple tale, its treatment and development, are refreshing in not biting off more than it can chew.
Director Peter Ramsey has now launched his career with a very solid delivery of a film for children, and balanced this appeal for the adults as well. I'm already all for a sequel should one be created, but as a standalone, this one is definitely for keeps. Highly recommended!
Dreamworks animation has not quite had the success rate of Pixar, but if Rise of the Guardians is any example of where they're heading, they're on a good path. RotG is like a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen of children's fables that band together to protect the children of the world from fear itself. Led by Santa Claus, the Guardians include the Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, and the Sandman. An old evil that thrives on the fear of children is returning, and the powers that be have chosen a new guardian to rise to the occasion, Jack Frost. Can Frost rise to legendary status of his peers? Will he be able to dispel fear and bring joy to the children? It's an amazing ride through fantastic worlds to find out.
The design of the characters really drew me into this one, when I first saw the trailer. Santa is an enormous, tattooed, urshanka wearing, sword wielding, commander of Yetis. Tooth Fairy is designed after a beautiful humming bird, as are her fairy minions. The villain has a sleek design with piercing eyes. I was not disappointed. This movie is beautiful. The set pieces are brilliant and epic, yet subtle. You can see the influence of Pan's Laberynth Director, Gillermo Del Torro, who was an executive producer here. The animation is great, and makes real good use of the 3D, which I fully admit I normally dislike.
The voice casting is superb, Chris Pine holds his own as Jack Frost, while Alec Balwin is almost unrecognizable as North (Santa). The biggest highlight for me is Jude Law as the villain. You can hear a snippet of him in the trailer. The children in the room have young voice actors, but are all greats.
The review might seem a little unbalanced, but I'm really struggling to come up with any big flaws. It is a great film for children and adults alike. Some people say it might be too scary for kids, but at its core the movie is about overcoming fear. It is an epic romp. It's not really a Christmas movie, as much as a winter movie. Go see it! Here's a trailer and character posters to hold you off until it's released.