MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Animated Action-Fantasy/Voices of: Chris Pine, Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Dakota Goyo, Georgie Grieve, Jacob Bertrand, Dominique Grund, Olivia Mattingly/ Runtime: 97 minutes
Stop me when you’ve heard this one before: So St. Nick, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, and Sandman all decide to go get a drink and…..nada. Not a thing happens when they step into an establishment for a nice refreshing brew. Now it’s not because everyone else is completely inebriated and don’t see that these icons of their childhood are amongst them. Rather, it’s that the patrons at Cheers simply no longer believe these icons exist and it’s a lack of belief that leaves these icons in quite the bind. That would probably explain why in the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2012’s Rise of the Guardians, we see that these iconic characters from our collective childhoods are assembled Avengers-style to fight off a nasty villain who aims to have the children of the world no longer believe in them and in the process usher in not just non-stop nightmares, but also annihilate the innocence of childhood for good. Thankfully, despite such dire circumstances, this slice of cinematic pie is actually quite good. Yes it is one that you can predict where it’s narrative is going just about every step of the way, but it is also unique in many respects, a family picture through and through, gorgeous to look at, and constructs for audiences a narrative that, whilst not entirely on the caliber of say Toy Story, is still one filled to the brim with energy, passion, and an important lesson on not only continuing to believe in things, but to also keep in mind what it’s like to have faith in the good things in this world lest things go completely and utterly dark in the worst ways possible.
The plot is as follows: So as this slice of cinematic pie gets underway, we see that jolly ol’ St. Nick (not being played here by Tim Allen) has called for an urgent assembly of other childhood fantasy icons including the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sand Man. It would appear that the kids in this world are in some kind of peril thus signifying that their old nemesis the Boogeyman has returned. A serious peril when taking into account the fact that due to the power Boogeyman holds in terrorizing children when they go to sleep, and feasting on their fear, the rest of these icons might not be able to thwart him this go-around. Thankfully, the Man in the Moon (because he’s a part of this universe too apparently) has appointed a new member of the team to aid them in their quest to put the Boogeyman to rest: Jack Frost (sadly not being reprised by Martin Short who was easily the best part of Santa Clause 3). Suffice it to say that even though Frost is not exactly a choice that is met with acclaim, especially from the Easter Bunny, to say nothing of how he is just content with being a mischievous spirit doing his own thing as well as the fact that only the other so-called “Guardians” (because that’s what they’re called in this universe) can see him due to no one else taking the time of day to believe in him, we soon witness as Jack decides to try and show that he has what it takes. Not only to be a part of the team, but to also do whatever he can to keep the children of the world safe from Boogeyman and his evil machinations…..
Now it should be noted before anything else that this film is able to construct an intriguing dynamic which operates on how powerful belief, faith, and an individual’s own values can be in seeing more in this world than those who just engage in the day to day tend to do especially in regards to how they never seem to ponder just where all the good and wicked in this world are to be located. Indeed if you as a person don’t give any weight to such concepts as optimism, being kind, having fun, and being decent then can these concepts even exist? Indeed this slice of cinematic pie manages to thread some intriguing philosophy into a quite simple narrative about utilizing that power of belief in what is good as a tool to equalize the wicked in a distinct balancing act which also is a key element in the bond between these heroes and the kids in this story’s universe. To that end, we see that this slice of cinematic pie is able to ingeniously showcase the Guardians’ powers not just as a tool to combat wickedness, but also as a manner for defining who they are and what they can bring to the people in the world who give the power of belief. As such, we see that the core of this cinematic pie is an immersion of Jack’s core or rather the thing which makes him worthy to be accepted to this elite group and in the process becoming a key individual who is able to aid people in sculpting their lives in a better way. Along with that it is also a film that revolves around just how important believing in yourself can be as much as it is to believe in other things. A fact that is best exemplified as we see that the more Jack Frost is able to figure out about himself, his origins, and what direction his life could go, we that he begins to gain both a much needed sense of confidence as well as the chances that people will gift him with their belief in who he is and what he brings to the table. Yes it may be handled simplistically, but it is also done so in a manner that is both quite potent and most assuredly a key element toward making this slice of cinematic pie a triumph beyond the vibrant work done by both the animators and the voice cast.
Now when taking a look just under a few of this slice of cinematic pie’s wonderful thematic concepts and ideas that it plays with is where one will find a linear and saddening in its level of predictability narrative. Yes this slice of cinematic pie may provide audiences with a some distinct new wrinkles on these iconic figures including turning Santa into a tattooed Russian tough guy type and how crucial the act of collecting teeth is, but it still all at the end of the day simply leads to an A-Z and fairly typical cinematic outing that checks all the necessary boxes, but still scores heavily on how well-done the characters are, the little touches here and there, and the absolutely beautiful animation work and top-flight work from sound design respectively. I mean don’t get me wrong dear reader: this slice of cinematic pie does engage in the typical assortment of swift action beats, whimsical family-oriented shenanigans, low-key adult content, and the necessary emotional moments that show our characters for who they are and just what exactly viewers are take away from this movie thematically. Put another way: it’s very similar to a lot of other animated movies, but its individual components manage to succeed enough that they help this movie get past its superficiality. Indeed the novelty of how these iconic characters are portrayed to say nothing of the roles they have in this narrative both as a group and on their own is really something magical. In the same vein, the main takeaway of this narrative in the form of how crucial it is to believe in something even when flies in the face of “rational logic” is something I feel can also be seen as a reflection on film itself. An opinion incidentally that can only be reached when you permit film’s magic to take you on a journey that helps you escape from whatever is going on in the “real world” that has you down.
Ultimately though, for all that this slice of cinematic pie does well and for the tiny amount that it doesn’t, it’s all molded by absolutely amazing digital animation that is so intricate, so lifelike, it’s actually amazing even when taking into account just how many animated slices of cinematic pie that have adopted this same style. Suffice it to say that DreamWorks’ animated department manages to give Pixar quite the challenge with arresting visual work that is showcased not by big things, but instead by the little things that give this slice of cinematic pie a realistic and fulfilling vibe to it. With that in mind, the design for all the characters in this is truly incredible from the Guardians themselves all the way to their main nightmarish foe in this. More than anything though, it is the world that is what defines this slice of cinematic pie through and through. I mean clothes ripple, bedsheets get wrinkles, and even the sand conjured up by Sandman (or Sandy) looks amazing. Indeed it really does seem like a lot more time was devoted to just the little things in this rather than the big ingredients at play and by doing that this movie manages to distinguish itself tremendously. It also doesn’t hurt that the voice performances in this is truly top-flight in every sense of the word. Indeed not only is it on par with other DreamWorks Animation movies like Kung Fu Panda, The Prince of Egypt, and (especially) the first Shrek movie, but this slice of cinematic pie’s cast does wonderful in portraying their respective characters that I can honestly say that this film would be missing out without this cast at its disposal.
All in all I can say that without a doubt in my mind that Rise of the Guardians is a completely flawed slice of cinematic pie. At the same time though, this is also a film where the flaws can’t even be put on the same level as what this film does wonderfully well. Indeed even though you can predict where this thing is going pretty much every step of the way to say nothing of how it manages to weave to and fro through the typical kiddie CGI moments, this is one film that manages to contribute a fairly satisfying narrative, distinct twists on characters we all grew up with, and absolutely incredible work from both the visual effects and acting departments respectively. No this might not be the best slice of cinematic pie that DreamWorks Animation ever sought fit to give us, but this is one that is still able to hold its own let alone be one that provides a degree of magic which will inspire you and your little movie goers to sit down and view it again and again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Rise of the Guardians a solid 3.5 out of 5.