The film opens with the ‘birth’ of a mystical unseen being, named Jack Frost [Pine], who was born out of cold and darkness, pulled into the light by the moon and gifted with all the powers of winter. For centuries he has caused mild panic and mayhem with his icy touch and cavalier attitude. We are then introduced to the established lore that minors are watched over by the four guardians of childhood, who preserve innocence and wonder: Nicholas St North [Baldwin], E. Bunnymund [Jackman], Toothiana and Sanderson Mansnoozie; or as they are more commonly known Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and The Sandman. In preparation for Christmas (a good eight or nine months away), North believes the evil Pitch [Law] is planning something wicked to instil fear in the hearts of children all over the world. Under the guidance of the man in the moon, North and the other four guardians enlist the help of Jack Frost; who, being no fan of rules and regulations, is reluctant to help. During his recruitment, Jack learns that children’s teeth retain memories and that in order to discover his own past, he will have to unite with the big four and combat the Boogeyman.
The film works on the very simple ensemble premise of what if X knew Y and what if they were all charged with a special purpose: to protect the children of the world. Sort of like The Seasonal Avengers. Thankfully, rather than simply adapting the origin stories in William Joyce’s books, the script is set in the present, with the current guardians firmly rooted in their respective duties and routines. In a way, this expands the universe of the setting and opens audiences up to a bigger experience than just a cheap throwaway film and a series of generic tie-in merchandise. Subsequently, Rise Of The Guardians has more heart and sincerity than most Dreamworks family releases, reminiscent of 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon. I wouldn’t say it’s nearly as good but that’s only because the story itself is a tad lacklustre. This point, however, is probably the movie’s biggest failing. As encompassing and engrossing as the characters and concepts are, the actual narrative is a little dull. Passionate, yes, entertaining, very, but still dull.
The casting is one of the film’s strong points, with knockout voice acting performances notably from Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman, both of whom are fed line after line. This does, however, leave a bit of a void when it comes to Chris Pine and Isla Fisher. Pine does his best and heads the project with reasonable gravitas but Fisher is simply relegated to the female element, which is a real shame. I’m not saying she’s particularly two dimensional (’cause in all honesty, they all play the same joke a little heavy handedly), she’s just disappointingly underused. Then there’s the villain. I’m not the biggest Jude Law fan but he has managed to surprise me on occasion and when he finds the right role, he really soars. Whilst being menacing and malicious, Law is fantastic, angry and terrifying, less so. Hissing with venom, Pitch is brought to life as a sinister and ancient evil but when he’s thundering with rage and spite, Law’s range falls short, almost as if he’s holding back. In earnest, the silent characters have just as much personality (if not more) than the voice cast, proving the range and skill of the animator’s contribution. Three examples of this are the fourth (arguably fifth) guardian, the sandman, who animates his thoughts into sand sculpture pictionary, the diligent but cantankerous yetis and the mischievous incompetent elves. The latter two of which should be generic minion-esque extras but are actually as captivating and developed as the main characters.
Technically, the film is relatively well crafted. The colours are rich, the detail is clear but there’s a lack of overall scale that should really solidify this feature as a bold epic. I can only attribute this to the overall style of the characters and environments, which favour a smooth, cartoonlike aesthetic. Which is unusual as Rise Of The Guardians employs the cinematographic mind of Roger Deakins as DP consultant for lighting, depth of field, colour saturation etc. Which all clearly affects the film’s final look but it never really achieves the dizzily stunning heights of the imagery produced in Rango. Alexandre Desplat’s score adds to the scale, bleeding melodic harmonies and towering symphonic engagements with grace and ease.
To sound anti-climactic, this is a very nice movie. Underneath the surface there’s a whole world of potential stories but this initial kick starter is just good. Certainly better than the majority of tat that’s released under the deceptive guise of “family entertainment” but not nearly the most challenging or impressive, which is a shame as it had the potential to be.
30th December 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
The flashback which tells Jack Frost’s origin was actually rather pleasant. From the way the film opened, I pretty much expected something along those lines but that didn’t mean I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by how well it was handled. I’m trying not to just openly spoil the whole thing and give away the story but essentially, Jack relives his memories and as such realises he was once human. The majority of unimaginative writers would use this opportunity to waste a few scenes away while the lead broods on his family and searches them out or some nonsense but Jack is simply elated to remember who he was. As I said, surprisingly pleasant.
Alec Baldwin in this kind of role is delightful. Being able to run with a ridiculous accent and a spin on an iconic children’s figure really draws on Baldwin’s SNL affiliations and reminds us how insanely funny he can be – as if 30 Rock wasn’t already doing that. I’m not sure how children will view the concept of a sword-wielding Russian in a red and black coat and ushanka rather than the familiar rosy-cheeked, Coca-Cola swigging, old geezer.. but if they accept Tim Allen, they’ll accept anything.
“Look at the pretty teeth with blood and gum all over them”
In A Few Words:
“Uniquely drawn characters and a brilliant concept let down by meandering storytelling and commendable but less than awe inspiring visual effects”