DM Haight

 Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. The Sandman. What do all these characters have in common besides the obvious fantastic nature of their very existence? Absolutely nothing. That is, until Rise of the Guardians. For the longest time we have seen occasionally passable films about Christmas and Santa Claus, including 1994’s The Santa Clause, and some really not great films about the Easter Bunny, like 2011’s Hop. We have even, recently, seen films like The Tooth Fairy, with Dwayne Johnson. With Rise of the Guardians, however, we see a compiling of all those legends and myths into one film. The Peter Ramsey helmed animated feature is the representation of a super film for the holiday season, and for kids in general. But what it has falls short for a variety of reasons.

The story revolves around Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine. We first meet him at the bottom of a frozen pond, where he is slowly rising. He discovers his powers in a small village in the latter end of the dark ages. He finds out that although he has these fantastic powers to control the elements of winter, no one can see him. And what’s worse, no one knows him. This becomes an issue of contention between him and The Guardians, a super group keeping the joy of children alive across the world. Jack is chosen by the moon to join the Guardians, consisting of Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and The Sandman. He refuses to join them until a sinister entity, Pitch (Jude Law), dons the aura of The Boogeyman, and begins to take all belief and hope from the world, leaving it cold and without joy. Jack Frost fights against this force of darkness and works to bring joy back to the world, and along the way he finds the reason why he became Jack Frost, and why the moon chose him to be a Guardian.

 The premise is nice, but the execution leaves one wanting. The performances are quite good, very believable, and the story draws you in and keeps you interested, but there is just something about it that lacks emotional depth. The story of Jack is actually enjoyable, but it’s too cliché. We have seen this story a hundred times over, and we’ll see it a hundred times more. A team that gets together, with two individuals butting heads, while the female of the group finds herself attracted to the newcomer. It’s been done. We even have the ostracized villain out, not necessarily for revenge, but to make a world his of own. The problem is that the story is too formulaic for adults to enjoy to the fullest. It comes on as a good holiday film, but it uses elements from so many different sources that the truly genuine moments we want to shine become muddled in the dogma of the genre. There is less story than is required for this film to be a great film, and although I enjoyed it on a certain level, it is not a film I need to watch again for the narrative.

However, the real strength of the film comes from the style of animation it utilizes. This year we have seen a lot of animated features revolving around certain holidays. ParanormanHotel Transylvania, and Frankenweenie are all films that deal in the festivities of Halloween. Only one of those films, Paranorman, succeeded in rising above the style of animation we have grown accustomed to. Frankenweenie is molded in the gothic/ German Expressionistic style that Tim Burton has become famous for, but it’s something we’ve seen for a long time from Burton. Hotel Transylvania is more fluff than anything, stick very closely to the standard, uninspired mode of animation. Rise of the Guardians, howeverstands out with its style. Everything has a sharp peak, everything is meticulous and fantastical. It feels like the film came directly from a children’s book, and in a good way. The colors aren’t vibrant, but they work so well and make the film so much more enjoyable. The use of golds and grays and blacks and reds and blues and greens all help to make the film a visual pleasure. It combines traditional characters with modern artistic influences and it makes the film. In an age where computer animation may have little left to offer us in terms of precision, Rise of the Guardians shows us that there is still more to be done in terms of artistic expression. Like FrankenweenieRise of the Guardians, especially in the depictions of The Sandman and Pitch, tips its hat toward the German Expressionistic movement. The film, although lacking in narrative, makes up for a lot of the ground it loses with its non-standard animation. I would say if you want a visual treat, pick this guy up as a video release. It might even make the holidays for a child. If you want a great story, keep looking. But I will say, Rise of the Guardians has done one thing right—it made me believe computer animation may still have more to offer. And that gives me hope.

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