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IHC Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Opening scene… you hear Jack Frost speaking for the first time. He has no idea who he is or why he is here. He rises through icy waters, breaking through ice and lands softly. Barefoot, he finds his now trademark staff, learns of his abilities and later flies to a village celebrating a Winter Solstice, only to find that he is incorporeal when one local passes straight through him. The only one who talks to him is the man on the moon, who tells him his name and nothing else. The audience never actually hears the moon speak.

This relatively downtrodden beginning gives weight to the entire movie, a tale of heroes brought about via the faith and imagination of the children worldwide. As this is a children’s movie (as compared to my previous reviews) I will be more lax on the spoilers than typical, so if you’re in it for the ride yourself, consider this your only warning.

Guardians at Tooth's Palace
And this is where they meet at Tooth’s Palace. See, you just *had* to keep reading, didn’t you?

Storyline

Rise of the Guardians is essentially about faith and belief of the spirits of childhood. Each of the main characters - Frost, Bunny, Tooth, North and Sandy (played by Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Alec Baldwin respectively; Sandy has no voice actor in this film) represent fundamental aspects of childhood, called “Centers.” Frost doesn’t know his when he is chosen, but the others do and share it willingly with him in hopes of helping him understand his role in this play. All of them defer to the Man on the Moon as a sort of “Guardian Zero.”

The guardians gather and bring Frost into the fold after a long time nemesis, Pitch Black aka the Boogeyman (Jude Law) is somehow brought forth into the world, presumably as the fears of children begin feeding his Center. Pitch then finds a way to corrupt Sandy’s Center and use that against the entire team. Combined with some rather crafty plays, he does a good job of driving a wedge into the team and sending one of them out of the picture for a good portion of the flick.

Pitch Black loosing an arrow
He also has an invisible bow! C’mon, even for evil you have to admit it’s cool.

Naturally this film does have a happy ending which I won’t spoil and yes Frost does find his Center (and if you’re paying attention, you’ll figure it out in the first 10 minutes) so this will be one for the DVD shelf. The moral is a bit heavy handed, but again this is a children’s movie so I think the film makers wanted to make sure the kids in the 8-10 y.o. range got the message. I can’t blame them.

Visuals

The 3D in this film was reasonable. For you Despicable Me fans, you’ll get a treat in the previews and Oz the Great and Powerful was also shown (both previews have been here on IHC in the past, so likely nothing you haven’t seen). The film itself takes advantage of the perspective that 3D offers, putting focus on what they want you to see and blurring the background. The dinosaur scene was particularly entertaining to watch and a particular ice sculpture Frost formed was rather appealing in a dark way. The movie did gain a little with the 3D, but won’t be missed when it comes home.

Audio

As with most flicks nowadays, the audio blended well with the visuals. I didn’t get any particular thrills or groans from the score, so as always they’ve done their job well.

Acting

I can’t tell what fake and real accents are as I don’t have enough exposure to them, but Baldwin does a passable Russian Hollywood Russian. As Hugh is born in Australia, it’s entirely possible the “accent” you hear from Bunny, a typical English variant you’d expect from someone down under might be real, but I can’t be sure. Everyone felt like they were in character as well. I didn’t see a “phoning it in” section anywhere in the movie, though the dialog felt a little forced in a couple places.

Moral of the Story

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of God does all in this movie, especially with the Man on the Moon being the unseen leader of the Guardians. A closer examination reveals that it’s the children who give the Guardians their power (and in some cases, simple acknowledgement) and the Guardians who protect the ideals the children hold in their hearts. The Man on the Moon who is obviously the oldest Guardian acts as a silent overseer, recruiter and dispatcher. I found that interpretation very easy to swallow, so for those of you who share my ideals, walk in thinking about it that way and you’ll find the movie much more enjoyable.

Guardian's in Jamie's room.
I’m pretty sure I’d have faith too if ALL my childhood characters showed up in my room, at the same time. Or I’d blame it on a bad trip. Whatever.

Overall

DreamWorks really set the bar on How to Train Your Dragon and it still remains their Gold Standard for animation and stories. Compared to that, Rise of the Guardians is a good contender, but not the best. That said, this is well worth a watch and falls into a rare category of a Christmas story that isn’t relegated to the pile until that one time of year where it can be watched. It’s a solid storyline in a reasonable watch time and has a point. Though I didn’t love the film, I couldn’t find any particular fault with it. So give it a whirl and don’t worry about having to bring something extra. You won’t be bored in this film.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5


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