Rise of the Guardians is like Avengers for five year olds only holiday mascots and creatures of folklore take the place of comic book superheroes. The end result is quite watchable, even for non-five year olds; Dreamworks’ unique take on seasonal familiars combined with some fantastic visuals will distract from the tired dialogue and flat characters.
The film’s protagonist is an apparently teenage boy, chosen by the Man in the Moon to be Jack Frost, an invisible sprite of winter. The reasons for his ascension from mere boy to elemental whim aren’t clear to Jack, who remembers nothing of his past. To distract himself, he plays with children, causing snow days and mayhem to amuse himself.
Jack soon finds himself summoned to the North Pole, however, where the rest of the Guardians have assembled to protect the world’s children from Pitch Black, the boogeyman himself. The others - Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, and The Sandman - welcome Jack to their ranks with varying degrees of reluctance, which is good because almost immediately afterward Pitch starts a bunch of shenanigans.
The visuals in Rise of the Guardians regularly impress. The 3D technology is used effectively and not too noticeable (i.e. they don’t overdose on “pop-out” moments). The decision to include The Sandman (who puts you to sleep at night) was fortuitous for the animators, because they create some really amazing looking effects with his sinuous, golden, sparkling veins of sand. Also trust me when I tell you that Pitch Black has some pretty sweet looking nightmares.
The world inhabited by these characters is well-thought out and interesting. An interesting backstory and ecology has been created for the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), who oversees a horde of smaller fairies that collect the teeth of the world’s children. These mini-fairies are adorable, just like the sidekicks for the other holiday heroes; Santa gets some adorable elves and yetis while the Easter Bunny has (surprise) some very cute egg underlings. The way the film displays the guardians is interesting, even if it stretches reality in some places; I have never once heard of someone staying up to try and see the Tooth Fairy, for instance.
It almost seems unfair to complain about things like dialogue and character development in a children’s movie, given that the target audience isn’t really prone to noticing such things, until you realize that Pixar regularly manages to create animated features with well-developed characters and clever dialogue. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to rent out their script writers to Dreamworks. Two examples of this are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), whose characters rely far too much on their accents and ethnicities (Russian and Australian, respectively) to form an “identity.” The voice work is excellent, with Alec Baldwin (Santa Claus) and Jude Law (Pitch Black) turning in particularly emotive performances, and this covers up the trite dialogue to some degree, but it’s still noticeable.
Chris Pine is inoffensive as the voice of Jack Frost, but then again, Jack is not especially interesting so I suppose that’s a good job overall (the most intriguing character is the Sandman, who cannot speak, and I don’t think this is a coincidence).
Watching a world in which Santa Claus wields two cutlasses in battle (and battles, for that matter) and in which the silent, enigmatic Man in the Moon calls the shots is very entertaining, especially for young kids. Just try not to think about the words too much. Think more on the fact that this holiday season, children will likely open action figures of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny as Christmas presents.
"Rise of the Guardians" opens November 21, 2012 and is rated PG. Directed by Peter Ramsey. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, William Joyce. Starring Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law.