Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rise of the Guardians: A Review (Review #475)


Rise of the Guardians suggests that there will be more films based around mythical beings from children's imaginations.  While I thought Rise of the Guardians was beautiful looking, I also thought that it was a bit frenetic and sometimes rather dark, even frightening, for the target audience.

Jack Frost (Chris Pine) has come into being, though he knows not how or why.  300 years pass.  He's basically a fun-loving teen, bringing snow days to kids everywhere (though, alas, I never actually saw Jack Frost nipping at anyone's nose).  Quickly, the villain Pitch Black aka The Bogeyman (Jude Law) has risen.  This soon gathers the attention of the Guardians: mythical beings who have been appointed by the Man on the Moon (and no, it isn't Andy Kaufman) to watch over children.  The Guardians are Santa Claus, better known as North (Alec Baldwin), a tattooed Russian-accented man, the Easter Bunny, nom de guerre Bunny (Hugh Jackman), a large, tough Australian accented creature (wonder why he got an Australian accent), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fischer) a large fairy who goes by Tooth , and the Sandman (who is mute).  The gather to face this emergency and to find who the Man on the Moon (if you believe) has selected as the next Guardian.  That being is...Jack Frost.  Complicating this is the fact that to be a Guardian, children have to believe and see them.  Children don't believe, and thus, cannot see, Jack.

However, that can't wait.  Soon Pitch is everywhere: he turns the Sandman's pleasant dreams to literal night-mares, he takes The Tooth Palace, causing children to not believe in the Tooth Fairy (and thus she begins to lose her powers, perhaps die) until the other Guardians and Jack (who hasn't accepted his newly-appointed position) collect various teeth to keep her going.  It is here that Jack learns that his own baby teeth were stored at the Tooth Palace, and now Pitch has them.  Pitch has already overwhelmed Sandy, and has also (inadvertently thanks to Jack) ruined Easter.  With the constant disappointments, the children soon begin to stop believing, all except for one.  Jack, now having finally learned how he came to be (more on that later), accepts that he now too is a Guardian, and rallies the rest of the Guardians and the children he's been interacting with, to battle Pitch and believe again.  Sandy is restored, and the Guardians, who now include Jack Frost, have risen.

I'm guessing that Rise of the Guardians suggests that these characters will come back for another adventure.  It's not a surprise given that this film is based on William Joyce's The Guardians of Childhood series, and while there is a certain cleverness in uniting all this characters, the actual story by David Lindsay-Abaire is so cluttered with going hither and yon, with a frenetic pacing and rushing through so much I felt I was almost trapped in an animated version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Alexandre Desplat's score did  not help matters: constantly playing only enhanced the rushed, almost chaotic nature of the story.

It just seemed that once we start getting our bearings as to where we are in the story, we are thrown somewhere else that at times feels superfluous to the plot.  When Tooth is going to die due to the children no longer believing in her, the others decide to gather all the teeth under the world's children's pillows.  From here, we get a very long sequence where Bunny, North, Sandy, and Jack appear to one-up each other in more and more outlandish methods, but when they finally show Tooth all they've brought, back they have to go to leave the gift they forgot.

Again and again, whether it's the Tooth Fairy or the ruined Easter sequence, it just feels so off to have so much thrown at us without ever concentrating on giving us an actual story.  While perhaps small children may be entertained by this rapid-fire story, it is not so much exhausting as frustrating that we never fully stop to get a sense of who these characters are, or why we should care.

What is really perplexing, if one thinks about it, is that these figures will die if no one believes they exist.  Pitch's great complaint is that so few if any children believe in the Bogeyman.  If that's the case, then shouldn't he be near death too? Going on further to death, the actual creation of Jack Frost is actually rather creepy and I imagine might frighten small children (whom I figure are the target audience). 

Finally, I'd argue about some of the choices involving the cast.  While Fischer was a delight as the somewhat frenetic and daffy Tooth (who like any other girl would find Jack just the cutest thing), everyone else was hit and miss.  I wondered why North had this big Russian accent (wouldn't Santa be Greek in any case?), and Jackman was probably having a nice time playing to his native voice.  Pine did a good job as the youthful sprite, and Law was appropriately chilling as Pitch.  However, the name Pitch Black might not have been the best one.  When Baldwin's thickly-accented North reprimands Jack by saying, "You were with Pitch?", let's just say it sounded like he was asking if he was with someone else.

Rise of the Guardians isn't a dreadful film, and the pictures are pretty, if not downright beautiful.  I just wish it were more evenly paced and not so rushed between scenes where the whole story basically crashes from one point to another.  Some aspects (in particular how Jack Frost came to be) will probably be frightening to small children so I'd advise caution when considering how they can handle a plot point of death.  On the whole Rise of the Guardians is a bit frenetic with a quick resolution to the dilemma, and if there are to be more Guardians films (which is in doubt), I'd recommend a slower pace and a greater concentration on the story rather than filling the screen with hurried action/comic scenes that are neither. 

That is something to which they need to guard against.


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