Santa's got a sword...
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin
When the Boogyman stars infesting the dreams of children around the world, the Guardians must rise up to protect them while inviting a new member into their sacred order.
Rise of the Guardians is based on a series of books by American author William Joyce, which focus on the origins of the heroic types who protect the innocence of children. The film instead takes place 200 years later, in modern times, and pits the now fully formed Guardians against their greatest adversary – Pitch, the embodiment of childhood fear.
Joyce himself has a history of involvement in the movie business, working as a conceptual artist on titles like the original Toy Story and A Bug’s Life. In fact, he was initially intended to co-direct Rise of the Guardians, stepping down after the tragic death of his daughter at the age of 18, herself the inspiration for the entire Guardians universe.
In his stead, Peter Ramsey took over sole directing duties and he’s crafted something relatively unique in Rise of the Guardians, if not totally successful.
Much of the story centres on Jack Frost, a character you wouldn’t immediately think of in the august company of Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman. And Jack agrees, intent on spending his centuries throwing snow balls and assisting the play of kids, without ever really being able to interact with them. It’s belief that makes a Guardian tangible and no one believes in old Jack.
The film thus becomes a quest for Jack to find his ‘centre’ – the trait which makes him invaluable to children everywhere. Along the way you’ll see the inner workings of the North Pole, how exactly eggs get delivered, the truth of behind teeth and a whole lot else besides.
There’s just so much going on, and all with very little frame of reference, that I soon found it overwhelming. It doesn’t help that the rules are constantly shifting like Sandman’s admittedly spectacular particle borne dust. What powers do they have? How come Jack is some kind of superhero sometimes and weak the next? And why the holy heck does Santa Claus have a bloomin’ sword?!
Beyond the messy mythology, there are things to like about Rise of the Guardians. The visuals are sharp and beautifully lit (with a little help from Roger Deakins), and some design elements are very striking – like Sandman threading dreams into the minds of sleeping children and the expansive warren where the Easter Bunny lives.
Likewise, the film excels in its anthropomorphic extras – you know those peripheral things which exist just to cuten up a production. Here you’ll find some delightfully stroppy elves and bipedal eggs, though the scene is most definitely stolen by the yeti’s – who manage to be cuddly and caring despite their massive bulk.
The voice work is a mixed bag – Pine sounds like he’s aping Christian Slater and Isla Fisher is altogether too sibilant. Violent Russian Santa Claus is a role Alec Baldwin was born to play and Hugh Jackman, in antipodean mode, makes for an interesting choice as the Easter Bunny. As the main villain Jude Law just laughs a lot.
Rise of the Guardians is a strange film, awash with some awkward mythology and a limp narrative, it almost saves itself with impressive presentation and well meaning giggles. Ultimately, the biggest surprise is that it isn’t really a Christmas movie at all, making the release date (and promotional material) seem all the more strange.