Rise of the Guardians
What It Is
As Jack Frost (Chris Pine) tells you at the start of Rise of the Guardians, the first thing he remembers is darkness. Since that moment, he goes on to say, he’s found out a little more about himself, that he can create ice and cold, that he can go barefoot in winter, and that no one else can see or hear him. While it’s fun to slip-slide on ice and deliver snow days to happy school kids, he does wish he might be seen.
That changes for Jack when he’s tapped to join the Guardians, comprised of figures from stories told to children, that is, Santa, a.k.a. North (Alec Baldwin, using an unexplained Russian accent), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Sand Man (who is silent), and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher). At first, he resists, professing no interest in the Guardians’ charge, which is to protect children’s emotional and physical wellbeing, that is to say, to help them to believe in each of these figures, because — apparently — kids have to believe, that’s what makes them kids.
Soon enough, Jack is convinced to help out, when the team faces a challenge from Pitch (Jude Law), who also goes by the name of Bogeyman. He wants to make children afraid and also to believe in him rather than those who bring gifts and eggs and exchange coins for teeth. When Pitch begins to shut down holidays, by kidnapping Tooth’s worker fairies (it’s never clear how she’s so human-sized and they’re all fairy-sized and have no voices), stealing the Easter Bunny’s eggs, and encouraging kids at Christmas not to believe in Santa. This believing business is tracked in a rather cumbersome way, as Santa keeps a big globe at the North Pole that features lights for all the believers: as these begin to go out at an alarming rate, the Guardians face ... something, perhaps termination of their jobs, perhaps a more permanent end. It’s not quite clear.
As Jack sorts out his role in all this, Pitch makes a special appeal to him. He argues that since they’ve both spent most of their existences unseen and un-believed in, Jack might abandon the Guardians and take up with him instead: cold and dark, Pitch reasons, they’re a natural pairing. But Jack wants to be liked, not dreaded, and so he sides with the Guardians. And when they all determine that only one boy, named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) remains a believer (his light is still turned on), they fly off to his neighborhood. Here they hope to save him from Pitch, who has his own plan, to snuff out this last light by scaring the kid into believing in the Bogeyman instead of, say, a rabbit who brings colored eggs and chocolates. Jamie calls on his little kid friends, the Guardians work as a unit, and you know who wins this contest.
Why It’s Fun
The animation is speedy and colorful. The multiple stories are a little jumbled. And Tooth spends too much time not quite flirting with Jack. Why is she — the only girl in the film, as there’s not even a Mrs. Claus — the only one with the yearning for romance?
The premise — an action team of childhood fantasies — seems both original and derivative. While North and the Easter Bunny compete over whose holiday is best and who's the toughest Guardian, they do at least share a bit of banter that’s entertaining, owing to Baldwin and Jackman’s quick line deliveries.
Apart from these two, the Guardians are pretty dull: Jack especially seems caught up in a too conventional teen-angsty phase, and pouting about it, to boot.
Who’s Going To Love It
Based on William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series fans will be pleased to see their favorite characters on screen; they may even be happy with the 3D animation (which maintains bright color in many scenes) and the evolving relationships between Jack and his fellow Guardians, limited and introductory as these may be.
Aspiring comic book movie fans might like it too, that is, preteenish viewers for whom The Avengers is too loud and bruising. This movie is rather like that one, but animated and with training wheels.
What To Be Aware Of
The action can be surprisingly dark and violent. For example, Pitch locks up the kidnapped fairies in tiny mass cages in a shadowy basement of some kind. As well, Pitch’s preferred scary object is a set of large black horses — nightmares — who glare and loom over frightened victims.
Sandman is destroyed (apparently) during a battle with Pitch, who wants children to have nervous-making nightmares rather than the sweet and restful sleep Sandman offers. This fight scene is loud and full of swirling sand effects — golden and black, designating the two forces — and ends in great sadness for Sandman’s friends.
Near the end, Jack and Pitch face off by wielding wind and cold to conjure a hectic animated storm. Midway through this battle, Pitch tosses Jack into a ravine of some sort, at which point Jack remembers how he came to be Jack Frost, itself a harrowing story in which he is a brave human boy who saves his younger sister from drowning on a cracked frozen pond, but falls in himself and dies — hence, the “dark” he remembers at the movie’s beginning. This scene is scary for Jack, but what about his little sister, so afraid and adorable and vulnerable just a moment before? She’s forgotten.
6 out of 10
Rise of the Guardians
Directors: Peter Ramsey
Cast: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo
Studio: Paramount Studios
US General Release: November 21, 2012
UK General Release: November 30, 2012