The first time I heard about Rise of the Guardians was last spring at a DreamWorks Animation preview event during which the director, Peter Ramsey, and the film’s biggest star, Alec Baldwin, spoke about the upcoming feature with excitement and delight. They explained the concept and showed a handful of brief clips to give the audience the gist of the film’s premise and its characters. It seemed very interesting and rather unique since it showcases the most beloved “guardian,” Santa Claus (Baldwin), with sleeve tattoos reading “naughty” on one arm and “nice” on the other. Don’t be mistaken though, Guardians isn’t a Christmas movie. Several people might be fooled into believing so due to the late November launch and the fact that Santa can be seen all over the commercials. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll get a few gratifying Christmas related moments, but every character gets an equal amount of screen time, and not all of them are associated with a holiday. However, I’m sure its DVD release date will come close to Easter and another popular guardian, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), will be the center of attention in the film’s advertisements. That’s just good marketing. Anyway, no matter what you think you’re in for, I’m here to tell you what to expect from Guardians, and overall it’s a splendid piece of animation with a rather fascinating story. It is based on William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, as well as his short film The Man in the Moon. Unfortunately, though, like our childhood heroes in their battle to protect the beliefs and imagination of kids around the world, Rise of the Guardians experiences some hiccups along the way.
The film begins with a boy conversing with the moon, informing us that he does not remember anything before waking up on an ice pond at night. He discovers that he can control the snow and ice surrounding him, soon realizing his identity as Jack Frost (voiced by Star Trek’s Chris Pine). He uses his powers solely for his own personal amusement by throwing snowballs at kids and creating dangerous icy pathways for unsuspecting sleigh riders. Luckily, he gets away with it because no one can see him, although that’s not always a good thing.
Meanwhile, up at the North Pole (where yetis, instead of the traditional elves who are apparently clumsy, build Christmas toys), Santa, a.k.a. North, notices a black cloud covering the globe portraying the children who believe in guardians like himself. They are shown as lights shining bright all over the Earth. The black cloud enveloping the map symbolizes Pitch, a.k.a. the Boogeyman, a.k.a. the Nightmare King, voiced by Jude Law who does a superb job as the evil, jealous figure of fear with his comforting yet sinister English accent. The only problem is that he, along with all of the characters, have way too many labels to choose from, making the audience unsure of what to call each guardian. Should I call him Santa, or does he prefer North? Is Pitch a scarier name, or should he be known as the Boogeyman? And those are just the options for two of the characters. Now in comes Bunnymund, or the Easter Bunny, Tooth, or the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and Sandy, or the Sandman (a character who does not speak, but depicts his emotions with pictures of sand). These names are easier to keep up with, thankfully, but as for the first two, your guess is as good as mine as to what they’d rather go by. I’ll just choose whatever rolls off the tongue.
Once all these guardians unite, they learn that Pitch plans on taking over the world by driving fear into the minds of the world’s children, forcing them to stop believing in their heroes, thus making Santa and his pals weak and powerless. The moon gives them a sign, pointing out that the only person who can help them is the reckless Jack Frost who no one truly believes in to the same extent as the more popular guardians.
While the movie takes some time to find its niche, once the fighting begins, the movie almost fully engulfs you in the action (with no thanks to the 3D, which, as I always say, serves zero purpose in the presentation). Each battle looks incredible due to the splendid work of the animation team, but it does tend to get a little too dark for younger audiences. I personally enjoyed them because the cliché and mundane dialogue left me a bit bored, so the visual effects grabbed my attention, but my younger sister who also attended the screening, didn’t enjoy them as much. Regardless, Guardians has something for everybody.
Throughout the film, I may have been annoyed by the odd choices like Santa speaking with a Russian accent (provided by Alec Baldwin, no less) and sporting tattoos, the Easter Bunny being Australian and mistaken for a kangaroo by the other characters and confusing the audience as well, the elves not doing their conventional work, and the giant stone Easter eggs walking around casually, but I couldn’t help but fall for it all in the end. The film’s message makes you miss the innocence of childhood, and hopefully those in the audience around the age of the kids who help their guardians in the conclusion don’t take it for granted.
Rise of the Guardians may not be the best animated feature of the year (I’ll see you at the Oscars, Wreck-It Ralph), but it warrants a trip to the theater even if the only thing you get out of it is the belief that some people out there are protecting you from that creepy nightmare-provider hiding under the bed.
When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.