The Guardians could have used a little more backstory before assembling for a team adventure.
Produced by DreamWorks Animation, “Rise of the Guardians” is almost but not quite a holiday-themed “Avengers” for kids, with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and other legendary figures banding together to fight evil. Last summer's “Avengers” movie had wonderful characterizations, and each of the superheroes was given just the right amount of screen time. “Guardians” feels a bit more crowded, and its irresistible premise has been hampered by the odd appearance of some of the characters.
When the Bogeyman (voiced by Jude Law) threatens to steal the hopes and dreams of children, the Guardians – including Santa (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) – recruit the spirit of winter, Jack Frost (Chris Pine), to help save the day. Santa is a burly Russian who speaks in broken English and sports a tattoo that says “naughty”. Other characters have been given an extreme makeover. The Easter Bunny is Australian, the Tooth Fairy is a hummingbird with bright plumage, and Jack Frost is a silver-haired heartthrob.
For more than a decade, DreamWorks has taken popular children's myths and given them an irreverent new spin. I enjoyed the studio's depictions of the Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio and the Big Bad Wolf in 2001's “Shrek”. They were funny because the filmmakers built on the audience's knowledge of the characters. The Guardians take a little getting used to because they're so different from the classic versions of these characters. It doesn't help that they have to spend so much screen time together. Each of the superheroes in “The Avengers” was given his own feature-length introduction. The Guardians could have used a little more backstory before assembling for a team adventure.
The Sandman, a diminutive mute with a crown of spiky golden hair, has been given very short shrift.
The movie's characterizations wouldn't be as bothersome if they didn't seem so pointless. I loved the holiday revisionism in “The Polar Express” and “Arthur Christmas”. “Polar Express” re-imagined the North Pole as an industrialized city, while “Arthur Christmas” showed the delivery of toys on Christmas Eve as a high-tech military operation.
Those movies found fresh ways of making holiday myths seem plausible.
“Rise of the Guardians” also takes a different approach, but I don't understand the point of a Russian bad-boy Santa Claus. This Santa needs a prequel. “Rise of the Guardians” needs a lot of prequels.
Given a slippery, insinuating voice by Jude Law, the Bogeyman is the only major character that really works, but I wouldn't say he's entertaining. Like the Dementors in the “Harry Potter” series, he makes everything dark, dreary and frightening when he appears onscreen. The hero isn't much fun, either. Jack Frost is bitter because children don't believe in him, and he spends much of the movie feeling sorry for himself and trying to get famous.
Like Jack, “Rise of the Guardians” is easy on the eyes. The scenes with Sandman floating in the night sky are especially dreamy. The movie wants to be a mix of enchantment and amusement, but mostly it falls flat. The scene where the Man in the Moon pulls Jack's body from the ice hints at the dark poetry that might have been. I got a kick out of Santa's slapstick elves, but the guardians' engage in none of the witty banter that made the scenes between the Hulk and Iron Man in “The Avengers” so enthralling. As holiday-themed movies ago, “Rise of the Guardians” takes up middle ground between the terrific “Nightmare Before Christmas” and the awful “Hop”, making this an average family film at best.
“Rise of the Guardians” will be playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college.
His reviews have appeared in The University Daily Kansan and at
FilmNet.com. His favorite DreamWorks Animation movie is “Chicken Run”.
He lives in Wichita.