Christmas and Easter have come at once in the animated Rise of the Guardians, quite literally. The eponymous Guardians are a ragtag group of iconic (whisper it, in case the kids are reading) fictional figures who are tasked with safeguarding the children of Earth. There’s Santa Claus, reimagined as a burly, sword-wielding Russian. The Easter Bunny – voiced by Hugh Jackman in his natural Aussie accent – is a grumpy, boomerang hurling action hero. The Sandman is a silent fellow of miniature stature, while the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is… well, the Tooth Fairy. Mischievous Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is volunteered by the moon itself – I’m not making this up – to join this group of righteous warriors when the Boogeyman (Jude Law, because British accent = Evil) makes his unwanted return to basically try and destroy all childhood hope. Initially reluctant to join, Jack is slowly persuaded to join the good fight, and will inevitably learn something about himself along the way.
Listen, films like Rise of the Guardians put reviewers in an awkward position. This is very much a film aimed directly at a young audience, so it’s a challenge to discuss through more cynical adult eyes. The moral dilemmas, characters, jokes and story will almost certainly engage young audiences. But this isn’t Toy Story. Heck, it isn’t even How to Train Your Dragon. There are few concessions made for parents and guardians. This, I guess, could be considered both a positive and negative.
The visuals offer relatively pleasant eye-candy. One review has already equated the film to ‘a toy box exploding’, which isn’t too far off the mark. It’s so colourful and energetic that even the silly old three-dimensional glasses cannot dim the vibrancy. A sojourn to the Easter Bunny’s multi-coloured layer is a mid-film highlight. Naturally, it can all get too busy, especially during the hyperactive action scenes, but Dreamwork’s rendering farms have mostly been put to good use. Composer-in-demand Alexandre Desplat keeps things buzzing with a suitably frenetic score that probably isn’t as good as his work on The Tree of Life, in case you were wondering.
The characters are familiar, but a mixed success in terms of execution. The Sandman – perhaps not entirely coincidentally the only one who cannot speak – is the most charming of the lot, and regrettably absent for much of the plot. It’s nice to see alternative takes on old Mr. Claus and the Easter Bunny, but the portrayals feel a tad off here. Jack is a bland protagonist, although the Boogeyman is an even blander adversary.
Mostly, Rise of the Guardians passes the time inoffensively. Some parts are downright silly. The frequently verbalised moral of the story is ‘You should believe what the moon tells you to’, which makes only a little more sense in the context of the film itself than it does written down here. Given that Toy Story 3 has irrevocably upped the game when it comes to tear-jerking family cinema, this is comparatively cheesy. Also (warning: critical pretension alert!) the whole film might well be a thinly veiled Christian analogy. Cheeky Dreamworks!
Still, the kids who were in attendance were gasping with delight, shock and awe throughout the screening: a simple, telling fact that pretty much renders anything else I had to say about the film completely redundant.