RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
****1/2 (out of 5)
November 21, 2012
Chris Pine as JACK FROST
Alec Baldwin as SANTA
Jude Law as PITCH
Isla Fisher as TOOTH
Hugh Jackman as BUNNY
Directed by: Peter Ramsey
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ve gotta stop underestimating DreamWorks Animation. Sure, they’ve kicked out some real stinkers, like “Shark Tale” and some of the “Shrek” films. But this animation studio has a strong history of impressing me, especially when a film initially sounds terrible.
They did this twice to me with the “Kung Fu Panda” films. Each time, I thought they would be terrible movies, but they both ended up making my best-of-the-year lists. Other films like “Megamind,” “Puss in Boots” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” weren’t on my Top 10 lists, but they were original stories with a unique take, and they all ended up being quite fun.
I didn’t know much about “Rise of the Guardians” before I saw it. I had seen the standees and posters in the movie theaters, and my kids had seen the trailers that were permeating the children’s networks on television. However, like many people I’ve talked to, I still wasn’t sure if this was a sequel to Zach Snyder’s “Legend of the Guardians” movie from a few years back.
And I’m glad I went in knowing very little. After all, when you pitch a movie that features Jack Frost fighting X-Men style alongside Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman, it sounds like the ramblings of a madman.
It’s not that these legendary characters haven’t been assembled in a film before. It’s that when they are, it’s usually cheesy at best or utterly terrible at the worst. We’ve seen these character assemble like a rag-tag Avengers in movies like “The Santa Clause” sequels, but they’re played off as jokes. Otherwise, they’re usually relegated to their own films, like in “Arthur Christmas” or “Hop.”
But when you finally swallow the concept of the film, things blossom. “Rise of the Guardians” features some brilliantly executed animation that looks excellent in 3D. It’s not that hard of a story to follow, in which Jack Frost has been tapped to be a new guardian of children in order to defeat the dastardly Pitch, also known as the Boogeyman.
My favorite parts of the film stem from a different take on these characters. Rather than the traditional jolly Santa Claus, we see a possibly mad Russian powerhouse who fights with swords and has Wookiees run his workshop. (Yeah, I know they’re technically Yetis, but they sure look and act like Wookiees to me. So I’m sticking with it. After all, who can resist seeing a movie with Christmas Wookiees in it?)
Additionally, the Easter Bunny isn’t some goofy, fluffy caricature. He’s an edgy lapine who carries a bite we haven’t see since “Watership Down” (or possibly “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”).
The villain is also fantastic, and can be one scary sonofabitch, conjuring up nightmares of demonic horses made of evil, black sand. This sort of villain would not have been possible before the “Harry Potter” films took the leap into darker territory for children’s movies. I would imagine some of what happens in this film might be too intense for the youngest viewers, but once kids are well into grade school, they should enjoy the movie for its adventurous feel.
It’s not too often that a film surprises me, and DreamWorks has done it again. “Rise of the Guardians” isn’t just a great holiday movie. It’s a great adventure movie that the whole family can enjoy at any time of the year… not just in the Christmas season.