Super powered heroes join forces to combat a nefarious enemy. No, it’s not Marvel’s The Avengers, but rather DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians, a candy coloured children’s adventure film that re-imagines The Tooth Fairy, Sandman, The Easter Bunny, Jack Frost and Santa Claus as a rag-tag team of crime fighting vigilantes tasked with protecting the world’s children from the things that go bump in the night. But while the concept is novel – and the animation often dazzling – the story and characterisations soon prove trite, condescending and dull.
In a move that immediately alienates those of us who grew up in warm climates, Rise of the Guardians is centred around Jack Frost (Chris Pine; Star Trek), the mischievous, fun loving but lonely spirit of winter who for hundreds of years has been rendered invisible thanks to kids not believing he exists. But his chance to prove himself comes when he is tapped to join the ranks of The Guardians, a mystical group of childhood protectors whose current members include the Boomerang-wielding Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman; Real Steel), the hyper-active Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher; Rango), the whimsical but wordless Sandman and a bearded, tattoo-sporting Russian named Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin; Rock of Ages).
Beyond its somewhat intriguing premise, Rise of the Guardians‘ greatest strength is undoubtedly the quality of its animation. Some of the images, particularly those involving the apparitions of the shadowy Bogeyman (Jude Law; Sherlock Holmes) and the dream-weaving Sandman, are, put simply, magical. Sadly, the visuals are in service of a wholly pedestrian story, one in which both the action and the plotting soon becomes painfully repetitive. Indeed, as we’re dragged hurriedly from one holiday-themed fantasy world to the next, you can almost imagine studio executives planning out the Rise of the Guardians theme park – complete with “Rabbit Warren Roller Coaster” and “Santa’s Flying Sled”. At the very least, they’d make a killing in greeting cards.
The characters, too, feel largely like blueprints, with Baldwin and Jackman seemingly competing for who can deliver the more cringe-worthy cultural stereotype (I’d say the Russians get off lighter than the Aussies, but then again there’s a good chance I’m biased). Pine, meanwhile, is seriously miscast as the waifish, whinging, skinny-jeaned Jack Frost, a blandly animated, blandly written protagonist whose third act back-story comes far too late to make us care. Truth be told, the only character you give a rats about is the Sandman – and that might be because he doesn’t talk.
Rise of the Guardians may prove bright and frenetic enough to entertain very small children, but when you consider what’s out there – films like Up, Toy Story, DreamWorks’ own Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, or the upcoming ParaNorman, to name just a few – this kind of derivative storytelling becomes a great deal more difficult to recommend. Ultimately the choice is yours. But in this holiday season, you and your kids deserve better.