"Do you stop believing in the moon just because the sun comes up?"
Marvel spent the better part of the last five years building up to this past summer's The Avengers, a film whose runaway success won't help but have you comparing it to Dreamworks' latest animated effort Rise of the Guardians. The film is the holiday/fairy tale version of Marvel's superhero super team, bringing together the heroes and legends of various ancient tales and giving them a bad ass spin. But is that a good thing? Read on to find out...
Rise of the Guardians opens with the birth of Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the pixie-ish boy who becomes the lord of all things snow & ice. He is unaware of the presence of other "Guardians," or protectors of children's innocence. These include a Santa Claus variant named North (Alec Baldwin), The Easter Bunny surrogate Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy, Tooth (Isla Fisher) & The Sandman, Sandy. An evil warrior named Pitch (Jude Law) is using the Guardians abilities against them, stealing the children's teeth & harnessing Sandy's sleep dust, in order to destroy the Guardians' power over children & their innocence.
The Guardians hope to persuade Jack Frost to join with them in their fight against Pitch, but being an outsider is part of Jack's nature, and he seems to have more in common with the villainous Pitch than he does the benevolent Guardians. The film very quickly becomes a race against time to try and combine forces for good to destroy Pitch & protect the children of the world from evil.
There's something strangely quixotic at work in Rise of the Guardians, a film that has a wonderfully rich mythology and back story. It's the sort of film that seeks to rectify the worlds of fantasy, holidays & religion, even giving The Guardians their own "god" of sorts in The Man in the Moon. What makes the film such a conundrum to me, however, is the fact that these heady and lofty ambitions are jettisoned at the drop of a hat in favor of frenetic, mind-boggling action sequences. It's a beautiful film with a ton of ideals, yet it also seeks to be a crowd-pleasing action movie for everyone.
None of this is to say that there isn't tremendous power in a film that's reach sometimes exceeds its grasp. I'd go so far as to say that the biggest virtue of this year's Cloud Atlas was its refusal to compromise, but that film had three hours to play out both its philosophical and visceral urges in equal measure. This film tries to cram it all into ninety minutes and can't help but feel underdeveloped as a result. No child is going to sit through a three hour film, but much like 2009's fantastic Where the Wild Things Are, this is a film that is almost more about children than it is a film for children.
Ultimately the biggest detriment of Rise of the Guardians is its insistence on being "safe" for children. The addition of a group of mischievous elves (which seem to have been ripped off wholesale from Despicable Me's minions) are the most egregious example of this. While my daughter loved their antics, and was thoroughly entertained by them, they felt like a studio head's attempt to make the film for children rather than about them. The film would have been a million times better had it not succumbed to such base pandering.
The voice work is solid, top to bottom. Baldwin & Law are the stand-outs, using their natural abilities to their advantage. The only fault I could find in the voice cast is that Pine's voice is perhaps a bit too mature for such a mischievous character as Jack Frost. Someone with a bit more malevolence in their voice would have been a better fit, but that's a bit nit-picky of me. The animation is fantastic, and the 3D is also phenomenal, although sometimes the action moves so fast that it's a bit of a blur. In spite of that, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you see it in 3D for the fantastic flying effects alone.
Rise of the Guardians is not the rousing success it could have been, but it's got so much going for it that it's impossible for me to write it off. If a film's biggest crime is that it tries to do too much, it's hard for me to dislike it. However, any film that fails to live up to its full potential can't help but feel like a disappointment. Children ages 5-10 will love every minute of it and eat it up, but any older than that, and I can't help but feel that they'll be just a tad let down by a film that could have, and should have, been so much more than it ended up being.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]