I’ve brought up the fact I feel that most kids’ movies are soulless excuses for entertainment and rely on cheap gags and pop culture references to sell tickets (my review of ParaNorman). I wish more of them were like Rise of the Guardians. While it’s not a perfect movie by any means its heart is in the right place and it manages to be funny and endearing without pandering to the audience or resorting to toilet humor.
When Pitch the Boogeyman (Jude Law) makes a play to ruin the hopes and dreams of the world’s children, the Guardians: North – aka Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), Tooth – aka The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Bunny – aka The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and Sandy – aka The Sandman (mute) enlist in the help of Jack Frost (Chris Pine) to assist them in stopping his evil plan.
The computer animation is pretty top notch. The design of the main players is interesting without being too off-the-wall, and yet there is a dark streak running through the film that gives each one a particular edginess. For example, North (Santa) looks like you’d expect him to except he has full sleeve tattoos, one arm has “Naughty” etched on it while the other has “Nice”. There’s a nice mix of cartoony and realistic touches that go a long way to making the characters appealing.
The voice acting is aces as well. Chris Pine, while sounding a little too old and raspy for a teenager, is great as Jack Frost. It appears as if he’s taking his part with a light touch and adds a lot of emotional flourishes to Jack that the animation of his character can’t convey. He’s a great actor and I’m glad that he’s finding success outside his role as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films. As always Alec Baldwin is a riot, and as Santa he goes one step beyond what you’d expect him to sound like by giving the character a heavy Russian accent. Isla Fisher manages be cute and adorable with just the sound of her voice. If anyone else was playing The Tooth Fairy I doubt her character would have ended up as fun as she did. Actually she’d probably be pretty annoying, so props to Fisher. Hugh Jackman is the secret weapon. The character of Bunny looks like it was tailored just for him with all the Australian touches, like his twin boomerangs and all the kangaroo jokes thrown his way. He lets his Aussie accent loose (finally) and makes his character the most fun of the bunch. Jude Law is a great villain as well. Pitch’s design is a little uninspired and clichéd so he puts everything into his performance to make the character as creepy as it can be to make up for it.
Visually the movie is quite striking. It’s colorful and rich, and I’m sure in 3D it would have been a sight to behold (I saw it on home video in 2D). Director Peter Ramsey, who is an art director by trade (Independence Day, Men in Black, Minority Report, Fight Club), makes sure that the world comes alive with some vivid color schemes (The Tooth Fairy’s Domain and Easter World especially) and top tier design work. The screenplay, based on a novel by William Joyce (“The Guardians of Childhood”) and written by David Lindsay-Abaire, is full of clever jokes, witty dialogue and some effective dramatic moments that will tug at your heartstrings. The main theme of realizing what makes a person unique is a nice bonus for the young ones. There are some pretty cool action scenes as well.
It is odd seeing Santa wielding two cutlasses, and there are some parts that will definitely frighten younger audience members, but it’s done in such a way that’s quite entertaining. At least for anyone over the age of ten. There’s a cheesiness to the film that is balanced just right so that it never strays into Shrek territory, but there’s a Pixar-ness there (this is a Dreamworks Animation release) that is appreciated. This comes as close to feeling like one of their films as you could possibly get without being a part of the Disney family. The inclusion of Santa’s tiny little Sims-voiced elves and his Chewbacca-like yetis offer some of the film’s funniest moments (the ongoing “paint it red” and “paint it blue” joke cracked me up).
The aspect of the film I appreciate the most is that even though it deals with some characters associated with holidays of religious significance, the origins of the days in question are thankfully never explained. It’s nice to see a holiday themed movie that doesn’t beat you over the head with religious overtones, but instead goes with a fantasy aspect to replace them. Kudos!
A really cheesy end credits song and some random moments of fake drama aside, this is a highly enjoyable family film. It won’t win any awards, but it’s a good way to spend an afternoon with the kids or someone special. I know that when the movie ended I had a smile on my face, and that’s not something that typically happens to me with this type of film. Consider that a good sign.
3.5 out of 5
p.s. Due to the so-called “financial failure” of this film in the US (it made $102m on a budget of $145m not counting foreign sales which I am pretty sure put the final tally in the green) Dreamworks Animation laid off over 350 employees to cut their losses. You mean to tell me that all the money that the Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon movies have generated hasn’t given them a bit of a cushion to help with issues like this? Sometimes Hollywood shows off its douchey side in public. This is one of those moments.