Saturday, March 2, 2013

Rise of the Guardians - Doesn't Rise High Enough

November and December are usually the months in which movie studios feel comfortable releasing Christmas movies while people are still in the holiday spirit, because people who buy a bunch of gifts need to be reminded of why they're doing it every once in a while. Another popular movie type for studios to put out is the kids movie, which is when parents want their kids to stay quiet for a couple of hours while they absorb mostly poor attempts at creating something that won't appeal to more than one age group. Around Christmas, there are usually quite a few movies that attempt to blend these two groups together, often with disastrous results. Since we're here, I'd like you to meet Rise of the Guardians, a movie that tries to deliver a heartfelt message about dreams made reality, but can't seem to figure out how to get it across or decide its core audience, which honestly should not have been that difficult.

The movie concerns a group of childhood fantasy heroes, the ones they start being cynical about when they're around nine years old, who have been chosen by the Man in the Moon (sure...) to protect childhood around the globe. However, an evil man named Pitch Black (Jude Law), aka The Boogeyman, has decided that he's tired of being ignored and begins spreading the power of evil nightmares, forcing the Guardians to unite and fight against him. These Guardians in question are a Russian Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) with prison tats, an Australian Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) with a liking for region-specific slang, a mute Sandman, a hummingbird-like Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) who is a rather obsessive and compulsive tooth collector and Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the main character and newest guardian, who resembles a Final Fantasy reject with a Cooper cane. They represent the first problem with this movie, which is using characters that a certain subset of children would actually believe in, yet they seem to have this odd filter applied by the designers that seems to suggest that they want the audience to think of these people as badass, but may unintentionally frighten this demographic as well. Maybe the studio didn't know which side of the mythological coin to appeal to, believers vs non-believers, and just opted for an odd approach that just shows they knew not what their intentions were.

But they really hit their stride in the "give them nightmares" department.
And then there's the story. I'll admit that it turned out better than I thought it would, but I'll be honest, it's not really a movie I'd be willing to watch again right away. While a movie doesn't need to be groundbreaking or overly original to be good, it does need to show some effort to its narrative, which this one doesn't seem to have a good grasp of. It has a decent structure and plays out kind of alright, and though it isn't boring, it just isn't engaging, like some of the presents you got when you were a kid. There are times when it seems to lose a sense of direction by introducing subplots that end up being completely meaningless to the whole, such as a girl ending up in the Easter Bunny's territory and then getting sent back safely. Then there's another problem, which I would like to call the Darksiders problem. To elaborate, there is a life-threatening (childhood threatening?) crisis that engulfs the entire planet, so what do they do? Just show a single town in the middle of Who Cares, U.S.A. so we never get a sense of how big the crisis really is. This is a problem for me, because I'd actually like to have a sense of what's really at stake, rather than find out how the collateral damage will affect a specific individual. There are many other things I could mention, but then this review would turn more into a spoiler-ridden nitpicking fest and I don't want that.

Though I will leave this here.

If I could sum it all up, I'd say that Rise of the Guardians is sort of a mixed bag. Yes, the animation and voice acting are actually quite good, but the characterizations seem very odd and the story stretches itself a bit thin. There are some moments that can actually elicit a laugh or two, but those are few and far between and the core story has concepts that feel a little far-fetched. It's really no surprise to me that this movie would be the one to cause Dreamworks to lay off employees for the first time in their history (I mean no disrespect by that since any sizable layoff count is actually quite tragic and I hope those employees manage to find another job when they can). This is definitely a movie that kids of a certain age will enjoy, but parents will find at least tolerable considering its length. Only consider viewing if you're a parent in need of a movie for your children to watch, but otherwise, maybe hunt down a copy of Arthur Christmas or something.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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