Mark Reviews Movies

Rise of the Guardians


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Ramsey

Cast: The voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some mildly scary action)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 11/21/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 20, 2012

Hovering, in a state of suspended animation, in the middle of a dark void, a teenage boy awakens from and into darkness. Uncertain of who, where, or even what he is, the boy speaks to us through the narration of one whose questions have only multiplied with time. The moon spoke to him that night, telling him his name and, through the simple act of communication, asserting that the boy is alive. It's been silent ever since.

The haunting opening sequence of Rise of the Guardians sets an almost existential tone for this computer-animated story of famous mythical characters joining together to overcome and fight the dastardly plan of one infamous figure of lore. It might seem like a bad idea to turn Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny into sword-wielding and boomerang-flinging warriors, but the film earns a lot of leeway for its off-kilter portrayal of beloved childhood fixtures simply by virtue of how strange its interpretations are.

Here, Santa, called North (voice of Alec Baldwin), is a bulking figure with "naughty" and "nice" tattooed on his forearms like some sort of Russian biker gang member, and the Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher), shortened to Tooth, is covered in colorful plumage. The Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), known only as Bunny, stands over six feet tall and travels great distances simply by opening up the ground beneath him with a tap of his foot, and the Sandman, dubbed Sandy, is mute, communicating by creating images out of sand that float above his head.

They exist because and work at the behest of the Man in the Moon, who assigned them long ago to protect the most important qualities of children. Santa protects wonder, while the Easter Bunny and the Sandman guard hope and dreams respectively. The Tooth Fairy's convern is far less clear; we suppose it's good dental hygiene ("Happy Easter," and, "Merry Christmas," shout the Easter Bunny and Santa, followed by "Don't forget to floss," from the Tooth Fairy).

The central character of this story is Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine), the boy who woke up in the film's opening scene, set 300 years prior, to find himself alone and invisible to people. In that time, he has been flying around the globe causing mischief with his magical staff, which has the ability to produce ice and snow at Frost's discretion. Frost has not aged in his three centuries in this role, and he has no idea who he was before this, if he was even anyone at all. He desperately wants people to know who he is now, although he would probably be happy enough if they were just able to see him.

The reason for Frost's invisibility is later explained in screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire's mythology (working from a series of books by William Joyce). Essentially, people do not believe in Jack Frost like they do North, Bunny, Tooth, and Sandy. Those four make up the titular group of guardians, and when Pitch Black (voice of Jude Law)—commonly known as the boogeyman—reappears after his reign of terror ended with the appointment of the guardians at the end of the Dark Ages, the Man in the Moon lets the four know they will soon have a fifth: Frost.

Pitch's plan, which involves warping Sandy's sleeping sand to create nightmares and picking apart each of the guardians' responsibilities until children stop believing in them and their power dissipates (i.e., kidnapping Tooth's fairy assistants so that she cannot collect the teeth under pillows and sabotaging Bunny's army of legged decorated eggs from reaching their hiding spots across the globe), is not particularly engaging on its own, but the way Lindsay-Abaire uses the villain's motivation to mirror Frost's is. Both have lived a long time without any recognition of their existence; it has turned the already devious Pitch evil and made the usually fun-loving Frost bitter. The film wisely explores the contrast, making Pitch an antagonist with an understandable motive and Frost an uncertain hero. Frost, you see, is not convinced that he should become a guardian; he is too self-involved and possesses too much self-doubt.

The film is imaginative enough in its depictions of the characters and their unique worlds. Bunny lives in a massive underground tunnel system on a remote island where flowers spray and streams flow with dye for eggs to be decorated. Tooth and her fairies operate out of a castle on a cliff where a wide expanse of air is broken up by towering cages where children's teeth are locked away in boxes (Yes, the film acknowledges how creepy this is when Tooth tells a child to wonder at a tooth with blood and bits of gum on it)—each box holding a child's memories (probably the more likely Big Concept she protects). North's workshop is run by yetis (though he convinces the impish, unproductive elves that they're in charge) and contains a massive globe upon which dots of light represent every believing child. Sandy has no home, constantly traveling and, in the film's loveliest visual moment, sending glowing streams of sand through the air to children in their beds.

Rise of the Guardians has the requisite action sequences, as the guardians battle Pitch and his battalion of demonic horses, but they are kinetic and have the spark of a conceptual struggle beneath the flashy visuals. It may be simple—fear vs. hope, dreams, and all the good stuff—but it's still effective.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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