It's nearly Christmas and that means the obligatory Christmas animated film from one studio or another. Sometimes you get a new Christmas classic (like last year's surprisingly good Arthur Christmas) and sometimes you get a film so devoid of actual joy you wonder if it won't destroy Christmas in the process. Usually these are cute, humor filled affairs that vary greatly in quality from year to year.
Rise of the Guardians is a bit different. It takes the children's holiday film, ditches the Christmas and firmly plants it into an action oriented, slightly dark affair about faith, childhood and belief. It's actually nice to see a film veer in a different direction, but unfortunately almost everything outside of the concept is generic, banal and at points boring. There's magic in this concept, but the movie ditches it for crass sentimentality.
Rise of the Guardians
The nifty idea behind Rise of the Guardians is that all the most famous childhood mythical creatures are actually part of what is basically a superhero team that was put together by the Man in the Moon to defend children's happiness. There's Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sand Man (mute). The four have been Guardians since the creation of myths, but when the Boogey Man (Jude Law) returns the Man in the Moon brings a new Guardian into the fold: Jack Frost (Chris Pine). The teenage (I think) frost has spent his life not knowing who he is or what his purpose is and when the Guardians ask him to join their team in order to stop the Boogey Man he at first declines until he realizes that there may be something in it for him.
You can easily see where the film is going from the get go and it doesn't diverge from its predicable course for a single second. The characters are all all too familiar with the Easter Bunny being the hot head and Santa being a wise leader while the Tooth Fairy is... well, the girl. While the interaction between the "team" can be fun at times it never really jives as a whole since the characters feel very cookie cutter once you peel away the mythical creatures bit. Even less original is the obligatory minions that every children's movie needs now thanks to Despicable Me. This time around their Santa's elves for the most part, but not content with that the filmmakers decided to cram in more "minion" types in the form of Yetis, smaller tooth fairies and easter eggs to the point where their side gags start getting tedious and redundant.
It's hard to say who this movie is really made for. It's definitely action packed and actually has lots of fighting (Santa has swords, the Easter Bunny throws smoke grenade eggs), plus it gets pretty dark at times making it both a bit too violent and scary for younger kids. On the flip side of that adults who might enjoy the action and superhero angles of the film are treated to a story that starts losing itself somewhere in the middle and never really finds itself again.
It could have been really interesting, though. The idea of Jack Frost, who no one actually believes in so no one can see him, having to have faith in himself in order for children to have faith in him is compelling and if it had been executed with any subtlety or panache could have been great. Plus, the idea of a superhero team comprising of mythical childhood creatures is nothing short of awesome, and throwing in a Russian Santa with naughty and nice tattooed on his forearms sounds like the icing on a very delicious cake. The problem is the cake turns out to be all icing and no actual cake.
It is really pretty icing, one must admit. The 3D in the film looks stunning -- though we're at the point where that's par for the course for big budget, animated films. More importantly the animation is gorgeious throughout. Heading to the different worlds where the team members live is really quite a treat and the action sequences look fantastic even if they don't feel that way. The most stunning though is the Sand Man's sand powers, which flow across the screen and are perfectly complimented by the film's 3D. Jack Frost's frosty actions look amazing in the film as well, and the Boogey Man's evil lair is particularly creepy. It's all very, very pretty.
And very, very empty. At the end of the movie you aren't left feeling like the characters were actually worth the while. Instead you leave feeling like they took the images of these characters of childhood wonder and emptied them out of all their wonder. Yes, it looks like Santa Claus, but it's too cliche and often trite to ever feel like Santa Claus. Despite having the looks, Rise of the Guardians lacks the spirit.