Rise of the Guardians is a surprisingly magical fantasy tale that isn’t as silly as the concept seems at first blush. When the world is threatened by a creeping evil that is slowly snuffing out the innocence of young children a super team of legendary myths are drawn together by the Man in the Moon to save the day.
But Rise of the Guardians doesn’t play for camp, and by taking the source material seriously director Peter Ramsey creates a satisfying adventure film with a plot that drives forward without sacrificing character. A novel take on a familiar story, Guardians is a fun adventure that twists familiar characters while not forgetting their essence.
The film comes from the perspective of Jack Frost, the impish harbinger of winter. His love for fun is matched only for his passion for mischief. He’s recruited to help the Guardians when Pitch Black (the Boogie Man) makes a play for the dreams of kids around the world. Frost joins North (Santa), a Russian warrior who shares only a passing resemblance to the jolly old elf who sells Coca-Cola; Bunny (of the Easter variety) an Aussie warrior who uses magical holes to go wherever he needs; Sandman, the master of dreams; Tooth (a fairy) who guards a treasure more precious than the discarded pieces of human jaw.
A great team dynamic is predicated on personality conflict and there’s plenty of that; nobody really gets along until it’s essential. Each character is fully realized but the filmmakers don’t dwell on them, instead letting them develop organically during the course of the story.
The 3D animation is delightful, providing an enveloping experience. Likewise Alexandre Desplait’s musical accompaniment is classic superhero with enough holiday spirit to keep it from becoming generic and stale.
As with any superhero film, Guardians lives and dies by its villain. Pitch seems familiar, pulling bits of Hades from Hercules, but he’s his own figure. More than a mere villain bent on destruction and control, there is more driving Pitch and his motivation makes him understandable, through a cracked lens. But he’s also spooky and as warning to parents the movie might be a little too intense for kids under 8.
A generic frame undergirds Guardians but the filmmakers have given it some fascinating, original trappings that keep it fresh and fascinating. The film is based on the novels of William Joyce (who penned the book that inspired Meet the Robinsons) and that storytelling pedigree is readily apparent.
Rise of the Guardians was a surprise, sharing more with How To Train Your Dragon, Lord of the Rings, and X-Men than with Shrek. The jokes aren’t rapid-fire pop culture references but instead germane to the story, a refreshing change from most animated movies. In that way Rise of the Guardians will have legs both at the box office and at home. A good story, well-told; Rise of the Guardians is easy to recommend.
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