Rise of the Guardians
David Lindsay-Abaire (Book: William Joyce)
Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Khamani Griffin, Kamil McFadden,
PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action
Buy on DVD
Buy on Blu-ray
DreamWorks has long been a close second to the masters at Pixar for creating indelible features that appeal to adults and children alike. Recently, their output (and announced output) has been sounding less adventure and more bankable. Rise of the Guardians may be their turning point.
Focusing on a group of noted children’s mythical figures, Rise of the Guardians relies heavily on its juvenile audience to sell a story that seems less thematically dense and more broadly appealing. Four Guardians have been appointed by an unseen force to protect the innocent children of the world, bringing joy and happiness to each. Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman have each been given simplified personal names (North, Tooth, Bunny and Sandy respectively). For centuries, they’ve protected and entertained the kids of Earth with their holiday activities.
Returning from centuries of exile, Pitch (voiced by Jude Law), a.k.a. The Boogeyman, hopes to manipulate the forces of good into their own demise, hatching a clever plan to return to power. It will take the combined strength of the Guardians with the help of a newly appointed member to stop him.
Chris Pine voices Jack Frost, a jovial spirit whose memories are foggy. He uses his power to create snow and ice wherever he goes bringing joy to children without ever being identified by them as an entity of force. With more interest in discovering his origins than with stopping an insidious force, Jack becomes a liability to the Guardians as he puts is own selfish interests ahead of those of the children he’s meant to protect.
The voice cast of Rise of the Guardians is a fantastic blend of experienced actors, some employing easily recognizable vocal patterns and others blending into the background. Hugh Jackman reverts to his native Australian accent as Bunny with assorted jokes intact; Alec Baldwin’s distinctive speaking pattern is successfully masked behind a carefully constructed Russian accent as North; Isla Fisher, whose voice isn’t very distinctive in general does a superb job with her flitting excitement as Tooth; and Sandy’s left voiceless speaking only in symbols and dreams, yet ends up being one of the most interesting characters.
Once you know Pine voices Jack, it’s not too hard to notice the fact. His performance is fairly standard and works within the confines of his character, but the emotional resonance of his character is diminished by his inexperience. Law, on the other hand, uses his very distinctive speech patterns to create menace and loathing in a character as varied and detailed as Pitch. Much of his story is straight-forward and predictable, but Law manages to make him almost seem human, subject to the same frailties and issues as real people.
Gorgeously animated, Rise of the Guardians is many times tense, exciting, visually stunning and inventive. While it’s almost par for the course for computer animated films to look their absolute best, Guardians makes it all look so easy, bringing vibrancy to even the dreariest dark colors, even with the climax taking place in the dark of night. The story easily supports this grandeur and children should have little trouble becoming engrossed in it.
As for adults, that’s where the film struggles. Like Disney through much of its renaissance, the focus here on appealing primarily to children can have devastating consequences. Although Rise of the Guardians narrowly avoids becoming overly kiddified, the parallels between this film and The Emperor’s New Groove are strong. New Groove was the film that saw Disney’s reputation begin diminishing. Although it was an entertaining film, there was little in it that appealed specifically to adults. Wanting to try and appeal to as many younger audience members as possible to strengthen its aging base, the older animation aficionados found it difficult to dig into the film’s themes and find a rooting interest.
The films that followed New Groove were largely execrable and were almost entirely ignored by the time Disney shuttered its hand-drawn animation division in the early 2000’s. Although I enjoyed Rise of the Guardians a great deal and its theme of never losing that childhood innocence, even when others begin to lose faith is a strong one. Yet, we’ve had so many films that have focused on that theme and with much better success (think Pixar’s Toy Story franchise), that elements of Guardians feel redundant.
I won’t put DreamWorks out to pasture just yet, but with films like The Croods on their way, I’m beginning to wonder if Guardians might not be DreamWorks’ turning point. Can it keep pace with its minor successes like Rise of the Guardians or is a disastrous Home on the Range-style flop on the horizon? I’m hoping for the former as Guardians, for all its flaws is a beautiful and emotionally satisfying film.
February 5, 2013