Friday, November 23, 2012

Rise of the Guardians (2012) - Movie Review

I never knew Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were such bad asses.

We meet Jack Frost (voice by Chris Pine) as he tells us how he got his name and power.  He's been alive for hundreds of years, but feels a little empty because nobody can see him or believes he exists.  The only joy he seems to get out of life is using his powers to mess with everyone (he actually comes off as kind of a jerk at first) or create a snow day for the kids in town.

At the North Pole, Santa Claus finds that Pitch Black, a.k.a. The Boogeyman, has returned.  Pitch's plan is to bring back fear to the children of the world.  Santa rallies the other Guardians of legend, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) to stop Pitch.  However, the Man in the Moon tells the Guardians that he's picked Jack Frost to be their newest member.

One of the things I liked about Guardians is that it didn't follow into the familiar troupe of the reluctant hero. Sure, Jack's a little resistant about joining the Guardians at first, but joins the action almost immediately once he realizes how serious the threat is.  They don't have to twist his arm to join their cause, and that was a refreshing change.  His primary dilemma throughout the story is finding out what his purpose is and what it will take for people to believe in him.

I've heard more than a few people compare this to Avengers, and I didn't draw that comparison until I heard that.  It's totally true though.  You're watching a movie about a bunch of super-powered mythical figures throw down against a common threat.  On that level, I thought the action parts of the film were very entertaining.  When there's action in the movie, it doesn't feel too cartoon-ish.

The overall story felt a little thin to me though.  There isn't a ton of depth, and the story is pretty fundamental.  It's not a bad story at all, but it's message and humor is definitely geared towards kids.  There are a few clever things they do, and there are some twists to the familiar mythology that I really appreciated.  However, it was lacking that something extra to put this in that upper tier of animated stories.

The animation is fantastic though.  The character design was great, and each even had their own realm that had it's own life and uniqueness about it.  One of the cooler characters was the Sandman.  He has no spoken dialog in the film and communicates through 'thought bubbles' and facial expressions.  It was really interesting and effective. I did see this in 3D, and while it didn't detract from the film, I didn't think it added too much to it either.  Overall, it's colorful and gorgeous. Even if the story doesn't totally work for you, the animation and visuals will keep you interested.

Matching the animation was the great voice work.  I mention this a lot when reviewing animated films, while the voices might be familiar, they aren't distracting or take you out of the story.  You have familiar voices like Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher and Chris Pine, and all their voices fit their characters nicely.  I was really impressed with Jude Law's voice acting for Pitch Black.  His voice fit the character perfectly, and he wasn't over-the-top with his delivery. Equally impressive was Alec Baldwin as Santa.  He plays Santa with a Russian accent, so I had no clue it was even him until the credits rolled.

This was Peter Ramsey's feature directorial debut, and I thought it was a great first effort.  From his IMDB page, his background as a illustrator and artist really lent itself to the visuals and action here.  Guillermo del Toro was an executive producer on this, and you can see his influence on the visuals as well.  This was based on William Joyce's The Guardians of Childhood book series.  As it's a book series, I've already heard there are potentially going to be some sequels and I have to say that I'm really looking forward to what they do next.  There are a lot of different areas and characters they can bring into the series and I think that'll be a lot of fun to see.  I only wish David Lindsay-Abaire's script had just a little more edge and wit to it.  That was the only real weakness of the film for me, and the thing that prevented it from being great.

Rise of the Guardians is a great family-friendly, holiday movie.  The story and message are great for the kids, and the top-notch animation will provide entertainment for those not that into the story. This is another movie that I think your kids will want to watch over and over once it comes out on DVD and I think it will help keep their belief alive in things like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Totally worth a matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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