Banal Story, Unique Visuals Define ‘Rise of the Guardians’

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Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Okay, we get it. The current crop of animators can create amazing worlds, full of sensory-expanding images and visions of magical awe (and in 3D). But, if there is a dull story interacting with the eye candy, it can feel like a fancy cake that tastes like sawdust. Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher Jude Law and Hugh Jackman lend their voices to “Rise of the Guardians.”

Adapting a book series, which used public domain characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, Sandman and the Tooth Fairy as an avenging force against childhood fears sounds doable on the surface, but the film interpretation given this storyline was odd and ineffectual. There is a mean and scary villain, and at first he seems to have the upper hand on our heroes, but guess what happens in the end? Yep, it’s been seen and done before, there simply needs to be more originality in storytelling if this redundant parable is rendered again. The wonder in this film lies in its unique visuals, and it multiplies that look over and over, but the uninspired tale doesn’t do the overall presentation any favors as a result.

Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine) has an image problem. Not enough people believe in his wintry legacy. This makes him invisible to the mortal coil, despite his ability to create the snow and ice that makes winter so much fun(?). Cut to the North Pole, where Santa (nicknamed “North,” voiced by Alec Baldwin) has a problem of his own. A darkness has invaded the earth, personified by the evil Pitch (Jude Law). The situation is so serious, North must call on “The Guardians,” which consists of The “Sandman” (silent), The Easter “Bunny” (Hugh Jackman) and the “Tooth” Fairy (Isla Fisher).

Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Chris Pine
The Line-Up: Sandman, Bunny , North, Tooth and Jack Frost in ‘Rise of the Guardians’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

The four have been defeating this evil for years, but they need some youth to add a weapon, and they call upon Jack Frost. Although Frost is reluctant to take on the mantle of the Guardians, his initial battles with Pitch proves he is necessary to the squad. The fight takes on a epic quality, and Pitch begins to win over the world’s children, mostly through fear and lack of belief in The Guardians. It will take one last monumental challenge to defeat the darkness, and Jack Frost is the key to the hopeful victory.

The film is available to experience in 3D, and the display on screen is worth the price of the glasses. The care that Dreamworks Animation Studio puts into the precise Jack Frost, Sandman and even dark Pitch effects – in particular – are as if the gloriously illustrated storybook has come to life and is dancing into our cerebral cortex. The worlds created around these familiar symbols of childhood adds to their distinction, and further stamps their character.

However, the overworked path of the story takes away as much as it gives. The potential is lost among the cute kids, zany elves, tooth fairy sidekicks, evil villains – Jude Law gives it his overwrought oily best – and conventional hero personalities. It gets to be irritating, and makes an 85 minute movies seem like three hours. This works okay for the kids, but the adults will get an itchy clock-checking finger, lighting up the theater like fireflies while illuminating the time on their phones.

The voice talent does an okay job. Chris Pine is everywhere, his agent should get a gold medal for the way his career is timed, and his voice is perfect for the reluctant hero Jack. Hugh Jackman gets to go full metal native Australian in his Easter Bunny voice, that must have been fun just being his natural self. Isla Fisher has a bit too much sweetness as the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Alec Baldwin gets to have a Russian accent contest with Steve Carell from “Despicable Me,” both of which annoys as much as creates. The silent Sandman may be the best vocal interpretation.

Jude Law
The Evil Darkness: The Villain Pitch (Jude Law) in ‘Rise of the Guardians’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

This is a grinch-like point of view, but this lack of story – based on a children’s book series by William Joyce – smacks of a fast paced pitch session that gets rushed to animation production. “Hey, we’ve got Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy built-in, who cares about story, the kids will love it!” Yes, it comes to that, but with that approach there also is an emptiness outside the child demographic. It’s the coal in the toe of a fancy-looking stocking.

Based on the kiddie applause at the end of the screening, “Rise of the Guardians” could be in your weekend plans. Maybe the tykes can be dropped off in the theater, and you can stay in the lobby, comparing prices online for the based-on-the-movie plush action figures.

“Rise of the Guardians” opens everywhere on November 21st. See local listings for 3D showings. Featuring the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and Hugh Jackman. Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the book by William Joyce. Directed by Peter Ramsey. Rated “PG” (for the scary images generated by the dark and evil Pitch) senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

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