Rise of the Guardians Reviews
Decent movie but not great! The plot is heavily about the idea of believing. We are told to believe in Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman and Jack Frost. Yet there's an underlying issue that goes unresolved. Two of the heroes - Santa and The Easter Bunny - are attached to holidays with religious themes, specifically the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Bunny comes close to explaining the meaning of his holiday by reminding Jack that "Easter is about new beginnings", but he stops short of getting deeper than that. It seems rather cheap to ask kids to hold on to their faith in Santa and The Tooth Fairy but makes no mention of God. What's the message there? Give us chases and fight scenes, but don't ask us for anything more. That seems rather false. Now the million dollar question: will kids enjoy it? Likely, but it will probably appeal more to the kids than to the parents. It is a fun movie with lots of bright colors and colorful characters and fun chase scenes. The villain meets an inevitable fate and the heroes are united as one. All your basic stuff. It's a good movie, an entertaining movie, but not one that is likely to be handed down through the generations. Although, be warned, The Easter Bunny sports a boomerang and your kids may want one for Christmas.
When an evil spirit known as Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, the immortal Guardians must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs, and imaginations of children all over the world.
It sounded a bit whimsical and babyish at first but the animation looked so good I gave it a go. First impressions were 'holy Buzz Lightyear!!', the visuals in this film are fudging excellent!!. This film looks sharp and crisp believe me, its a feast for the eyes on every level and in every sequence. Either when the atmosphere is fun and joyous or when it dark, brooding and nightmarish, it all looks tremendous.
Not only are the colours beautiful and animation slick, the characters all look good too! and that includes the human characters which often aren't as exciting as the fantasy ones. There is almost a Disney look about the humans here, the big clear eyes, smooth faces, plus 'The Boogeyman' looks very much like 'Hades' from 'Disney's Hercules'. Not only do all the characters look good but their facial expressions are really well done too, right down to the smallest change depending on the emotion eg. raising an eyebrow or shaking of the head. I think what they have managed to do is get the voices synced precisely with changing facial expressions, this is why it looks so flawless, very impressed.
The odd thing about this film is the legendary characters, I dunno if they are like this in the book but there are some strange ideas here. While 'Jack Frost' is imagined nicely, almost like a winter elf of sorts, the others are...curious. Good old Santa or 'North' is made out as a huge bearded old fella as expected but he's...Russian??. A thick Russian accent, carries Russian swords into battle, wears a thick black traditional Russian hat (Cossack Cap hat I think) and his traditional Santa suit of red n white trim now has thick black furry trim giving that Soviet military feel. But I gotta admit it lends well to the cold, snowy, frozen image of his background. Oh and one more thing...he has tattoo's on his forearms, yep you read that correctly, 'naughty' and 'nice' tattoo's on each forearm that look like they are part of sleeves actually!.
Next up is the Easter Bunny or 'E. Aster Bunnymund'. Now this guy also has some kind of tribal markings on his fur in various places, dresses like a 'wookie', has an Australian accent and carries two boomerangs into battle. The Tooth Fairy 'Tooth', looks a bit like a mermaid crossed with a hummingbird and is very colourful, she has hundreds of little baby Tooth Fairies that assist her. Lastly we have the Sandman 'Sandy', a short tubby little fellow who is completely sandy in colour and communicates via sand images that he conjures above his head.
A weird set of ideas for traditional characters of lore but this is what I liked about the film to be honest. Yes the plot is completely mundane and has not one inch of originality in its run time, the good guys team together to beat the bad guy, high points, low points, high points once more for the finale, good guys win, the end.
Nothing remotely surprising or unpredictable so don't think otherwise. Its the spectacle and characters that are the winner for me, some lovely moments that will make you smile or put a lump in you're throat. As said the way the characters have been approached are bizarre but original (only original thing here), the tiny little jingle bell hat wearing elves that help Santa are great for a giggle, the yeti's that also help Santa are a fun touch too. Must also gives kudos for the voice casting which really combines to make the characters well rounded, haven't heard such good voice work for ages. Jackman manages his Aussie accent again whilst Baldwin is really good as a Russian Santa (didn't even realise it was him!).
Total feel good film with grade A standard animation from Dreamworks (one in the eye for Pixar). I mean really, if you didn't like this then you gotta be a bit cold inside, sure its a soppy kids film but the crack team of elite holiday guardians put a smile on my face. I really wanted to see more guardians but to be honest I struggled to think of anymore, a Leprechaun was mentioned for St Patrick's Day, I presume...maybe a red dragon for St George's Day? I'm sure there are some other good foreign ones. But yeah, totally 'The Avengers' for the very young, I like it.
The exhilarating movement that's produced time and time again is a ball to watch!
A lot of the dialogue also comes out heavy handed, which makes the movie feel like it was written by a couple of whining depressed teenagers, patronizing the older audiences.
But lets take a moment to forget all that because... sometimes formulas/archetypes work. (Paranorman) Sometimes simple storylines are there for purity and can resonate when a film makes a huge enough effort to fill it with little bits and pieces that create it's own voice.
So despite the shit dialogue and trite story, RotG was a beautifully designed, fast pace animated action adventure full of epic magical battles. If I was 12 and saw this I'd think it was freaking awesome and would want to be Jack Frost immediately.\
As a 24 year old man I see an action adventure with some of the most amazing character designs, set pieces and well choreographed battles ever from Dreamworks. Also congrats on them for moving away from excessive pop-culture reference jokes in a modern premise, really.
Earlier I mentioned "little things" that give RoTG it's own voice. THERE WERE SO MANY THINGS that did it for me! The way the Tooth fairies were designed, the way each tooth-case opened up with a person's memories, how Santa was a dual sword wielding badass Russian or how his workers were yetis instead of the elves, how they had a "European division" cameo of the tooth mouse, the Easter island/egg type juggernaut walking around... etc. etc. The list can go on.
Granted... I thought Pitch's design was very unimaginative and boring or like how every nightmare was a evil horse. Or that Jack was just wearing a lame blue hoodie and is essentially created to be the biggest Bishonen lady-killer ever.
It's a good movie maybe even great, for sure. But to say it's amazing or has something for everyone? Nah. Only if you're a sucker for great character/environment design and epic magic battles which I am :]
The guardians are an ancient group of holiday-themed characters entrusted with keeping the sense of wonder alive in children. There's Santa Claus, a.k.a. North (voiced by Alec Baldwin), and his army of yetti workers, the tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and her own collection agency of tooth-gathering fairies, the Sandman, in charge of the sweet dreams of children, and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), an Australian jack rabbit with a bit of a chip on his bunny shoulder. The world is threatened by Pitch (Jude Law), a bogeyman who desperately desires children to fear him again, because belief is what powers the Guardians. To stop Pitch and his array of nightmare creatures, the Guardians must add another member to their outlet, Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Except Jack has no interest in joining this fuddy-duddy group and would rather do his own thing, which usually involves wrecking havoc. Jack's desperate to find out his past and figure out why he was chosen for his immortal role and what it will take to make kids believe in him.
Ultimately, I just couldn't really get into this movie. It's set up like an Avengers team of children's fantasy figures, but I felt like the movie failed to make me emotionally connect with their plights. The Jack Frost protagonist was another tired variation on the selfish, plays-by-his-own-rules cowboy character that needs to learn a dash of personal responsibility and putting others first. But his goal is essentially to be... seen. He's worried kids will never see him because they won't ever believe in him. That's a fairly abstract existential crisis for your main character to have, and one that I found too odd to care about. The entire core of the movie revolves around children's sense of belief, and unless you're twisting this into some general statement about the purpose of faith (the Man in the Moon = God?), then I find it all to be silly considering we're talking about the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. I mean, the main kid has to be eight or nine years old and still fervently believes in these mythical creatures, to the point that he is literally the only person on the planet who believes at one dour point (sheesh, talk about how easily disillusioned kids can get these days). We're celebrating a kid going into adolescence believing in these things. That just smacks me as a little weird if you stop and think about the film's implications. This kid is going to grow up socially warped. Then again his beliefs are proven right, so maybe it's just the rest of us cynical bastards out there who need to adapt. I guess I'm going to go accept my fate and be a crotchety old man now.
The plot feels too airy for my liking, too frenetic to get to the next set piece or chase sequence. It doesn't feel like it ever takes the time to settle down and develop its characters or story. As a result, we're left with a fairly middling backstory for Jack Frost that should be easy to figure out, but we're also stuck in a world that doesn't feel like the rules have been sufficiently explained. Case in point: the Tooth Fairy keeps all those baby teeth in one huge archive because, you see, the teeth hold memories. I guess. But then Jack's after his own teeth to retrieve his forgotten past (yes folks, we have an amnesiac protagonist). I'm okay with this so far though it's a tad forced, but when Jack does get those teeth, he's presented with memories at the age of 18. I know people suffered through poor dental hygiene hundreds of years ago, but you cannot expect me to believe that Jack is still losing baby teeth. This is just one example where the movie didn't come across as fully formed. The Guardians all seem to possess different super powers involving space-time travel, but then they don't seem to do anything with these abilities that matters by the final battle. Pitch has the ability to craft nightmare creatures and all he does is end up making wispy evil-looking horses. That seems like a waste. There are not enough payoffs here with all the imaginative possibilities.
Rise of the Guardians has some enjoyable moments but it practically relies upon you to supply all the work as far as character empathy. We're familiar with these magical figures, and so the movie gets by because we put in the emotional connection to Santa and the Easter Bunny, but the characters just don't register on the page, at least with this story. I don't know if David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbithole, Inkheart) was the best candidate for the job, but he doesn't give me enough reasons to engage with the movie. The characters are lackluster, their conflicts feel too abstract, the conclusion feels superfluous, and the world feels poorly defined, developed, and unsatisfying.
I like Chris Pine (Unstoppable) as an actor, but the man brings absolutely nothing to the table when it comes to voice acting. Baldwin (Rock of Ages) and Jackman's (Real Steel) performances are defined by their respective accents. I feel like Hollywood needs some sort of seminal moment to go back to genuine voice artists rather than hiring whatever celebrity. Yes we all enjoyed Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin, but are you going to tell me that Pine's vocal work was so exceptional he had to be cast? It's like having celebrities provide the voices for the helium-sounding Chipmunks. The best voice actor in the film is clearly Law (Sherlock Holmes) who does such a good job I felt more sympathy for him than I did Jack Frost. I know it's commonplace in movies for the hero and the villain to have some duality, but I wasn't probably supposed to jump ship as far as loyalty. Maybe I just found the actual kids in the movie to be annoying so I didn't mind a magical creature preying upon their collective childhood fear. It reminded me of the space cloud villain from 2011's Green Lantern flop, where I wondered if this fear-sucking cloud sought out the delicacy of children's fears first.
To top it all off, I found myself left rather cold by the visual aesthetics of the movie. It has this overly androgynous, big-eyed anime feel, and I kept getting the sense that the whole movie looked like an extended video game cut scene. This movie even had Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) and the brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakens (Skyfall) as producers or visual consultants, so I'm even more baffled at how visually poor I found the movie. The colors are so muddy and the visuals felt so limited for me, especially considering the imaginative parameters of the characters and their respective worlds. I thought Pitch seemed oddly similar in visual approach to Hades in Disney's underrated Hercules. The action sequences had some nice visual panache to them as far as choreography, but I couldn't stop thinking how cruddy and dreary everything looked.
Rise of the Guardians is based upon a series of yet-to-be published books by famed author William Joyce, who won an Oscar himself the previous year for the animated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I feel like that short was a better representation of magic and imagination than this film. The humor, the life lessons, the character development, it all felt so stilted to me. I thought the conflicts were too abstract and hard to care about (oh no, people have stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy!) and the world and rules felt too amorphous, poorly explained and creatively handicapped. If you're going for a fantasy setting with larger-than-life figures, each with certain gifts and powers, hen I want the promise of that setup to be fulfilled. Rise of the Guardians isn't a bad movie by any means but it left me cold and indifferent. It's meant to strike at my childish sense of wonder, but I felt too often like a cynical adult, picking apart the frailties of its storytelling and muddy visual designs. It felt like it was missing the best magic of all: gifted storytelling. You'll probably have more fun than I did, but that's just because I probably have no soul.
Nate's Grade: B-