THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"RISE OF THE GUARDIANS"
Rise of the Guardians is kind of like The Avengers, except that instead of superheroes, the characters are people your parents lied to you about when you were a kid. The premise is fairly simple: the Man in the Moon has enlisted a group of entities to protect the children of the world. They are Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Grant), and Sandman (he's silent). When the Boogeyman – known here as Pitch (Jude Law) – launches a scheme to make children everywhere stop believing in the guardians, thereby stripping them of their power, a new recruit is brought into the fold. He is Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a young guy with the ability to freeze things, but also a lot of insecurity over the fact that he's not as recognized as his peers. Still, he's spunky and determined, which makes him a valuable ally. Together with the others, Jack launches a preventative attack against Pitch, learning some important things about his origins in the process.
The movie is based on a children's book by William Joyce, and has been brought to life by DreamWorks Animation. It's a different kind of film for them, given that the animation is not as cute and cuddly as normal. Guardians is visually more akin to The Polar Express than to Shrek, with semi-realistic looking humans/environments and edgier character designs. (Santa has forearm tattoos and, when in battle, wields a sword in each hand.) That said, the approach is perfectly suited to the material. Large chunks of the story take place at the North Pole, with the detailed animation creating an elaborate Christmas wonderland that perfectly conjures up childhood images of what Santa's workshop might be like. Later, the story detours into the Easter Bunny's realm, which is so bright and colorful that it makes the “Sugar Rush” game of Wreck-It Ralph look like a depressing netherworld. The darker elements are just as vividly animated. Pitch's main weapon is fear, presented as dark grains of sand, able to take ominous forms, most often rearing horses of doom. The attention to detail is quite remarkable, giving the film a fun atmosphere while still acknowledging the high stakes of the central conflict.
Rise of the Guardians manages to combine several things effectively. Jack Frost's personal story is grounded in some deeper emotions, while Pitch's evil plan taps into the idea that childhood loses a little bit of its magic once you stop believing in fables. Then there are Santa's elves, who provide the kind of silly comic relief that the minions of Despicable Me provided. It's a lot to pull off in one 97-minute movie, yet director Peter Ramsey balances the tone so that everything fits together smoothly, without any of it getting the short shrift. The plot elements culminate in a rousing finale that achieves the feel-good glow you'd expect from a piece of holiday entertainment.
Beautiful to look at, often funny, and genuinely good-hearted, Rise of the Guardians could become a perennial family favorite.
( 1/2 out of four)
Rise of the Guardians is rated PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!