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Review: Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Directed by: Peter Ramsey

Premise: An animated film in which fairytale characters Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman protect the world’s children. When the Boogieman hatches a plot to eliminate the holidays, Jack Frost is enlisted to join the guardians.

What Works: Rise of the Guardians is a DreamWorks Animation production and it is among the studio’s better films. The quality of the animation is notably better than many of DreamWorks Animation’s other efforts. The environments have terrific detail and texture, especially locations like Santa’s toy factory and the Easter Bunny’s rabbit hole. The characters are rendered with more nuance and subtlety than other DreamWorks Animation productions and they are given more complex motivations and storylines. Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine) is given a strong character arc as he grows from a carefree loner to a principled member of the group. Pitch (voiced by Jude Law), the villain, is also given a complex motivation and his backstory nicely parallels that of Jack Frost, making them lighter and darker versions of each other. Rise of Guardians also has some strong cinematic qualities in its chases and other set pieces. Rise of the Guardians manages to appeal to a broader audience than a lot of other animated films from the same studio. DreamWorks Animation often puts less emphasis on artistry or storytelling and more emphasis on entertaining children; movies like Madagascar and Kung-Fu Panda are essentially feature length cartoons. In that respect, Rise of the Guardians sets its goals a little higher with a more sophisticated story. This film has a novel concept, that these fairytale characters are actually heroic beings that safeguard the young, and through that concept the filmmakers reach for big ideas. Within the concept of the story, the power of the guardians is based on how fervently children believe in them and the faith of the children is based on the hope that the fairytale figures and their holidays inspire. This is a complex idea but the filmmakers find ways to present it simply and visually so that even children can grasp the concepts. The themes of Rise of the Guardians give the story a little more depth than the average animated feature and when it gets to the climax there is something meaningful at stake.

What Doesn’t: Rise of the Guardians has some critical problems with its premise. The first is that it fundamentally changes its characters from their popular imagery. Santa Claus in particular is portrayed as a rough and tough tattooed warrior rather than the gentle and jolly versions of St. Nick from The Night Before Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street. The problem is that the movie posits two clashing ideas: Santa Claus as an action hero. By changing the character he is no longer Santa, just an action hero in a red suit, and that undermines the hook of the movie. The second flaw of Rise of the Guardians is the film’s shortsightedness. This movie is intended for Western audiences but it presupposes that everyone on the planet shares the same holidays. This raises all kind of questions in the aftermath about whether or not these guardians would or should protect non-believers or children of other cultures. Given that the movie is already dabbling in bigger ideas, this kind of criticism can’t be brushed aside. Fortunately, Rise of the Guardians is entertaining enough that most of these questions won’t occur to a viewer until after the movie is finished.

Bottom Line: Rise of the Guardians manages to be an entertaining family holiday movie. Its premise does not hold up under much scrutiny but popcorn films rarely do and it is enjoyable enough to make for a satisfying option for family movie night.

Episode: #419 (December 16, 2012)