Rise of the Guardians (2012) Review

Can these heroes save the world from Pitch Black?
(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The holiday season means a lot to many people; it’s the time of the year when values, like family, friends, and tradition, are most important. But what happens when a sinister, long-forgotten threat returns from the shadows to steal away what we hold dear about the holidays? This is the premise of Rise of the Guardians, a family-friendly holiday themed action-er. Rise of the Guardians is a visual treat, a kinetic joyride through a stylized holiday world that’s sure to dazzle kids and adults alike. Unfortunately the appeal doesn’t go much further than the spectacle on-screen. The story doesn’t compare to the strong visuals, and the character development never goes much further than a wacky accent or two. In despite of this, it’s a still a fun trip to the movies for families of all ages this season.

Jack Frost (Chris Pine) has a tough time figuring out who he is. All he remembers for the past 300 years is waking up in the dead of winter to a mysterious summons from the one and only Man in the Moon. Armed with his power to control the forces of winter, Jack has spent the last three centuries causing snow-related mischief the world over, and wondering all along why no one seems to even know he exists. Soon enough, a greater purpose comes calling. When Pitch Black (Jude Law) returns from exile intent on plunging the world into nightmares, the call goes out to summon the Guardians. Quick as a flash, all of the major players are reporting for duty, lead by Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) himself. When the Man in the Moon tells the team, they’ll need one more pair of hands to take on the Boogey Man, Jack finally begins to understand his true purpose is more important than he ever could have imagined.

Once the team is set, Rise of the Guardians doesn’t waste any time at all launching into the action. Jack Frost zips around the screen on bridges made of ice, while the Easter Bunny appears out of nowhere via magic bunny-holes to throw boomerangs. The Sandman uses whips of sand to fend off foes. Santa’s sleigh is a flying tank pulled by super-powered reindeer, and its mechanics are a set of Chewbacca-esque abominable snowmen. There’s something undeniably entertaining about action-movie sensibilities being applied to some of the older more traditional myths. It breathes a new life into old-fashioned tales that’s sure to appeal to today’s video gaming mass of youngsters. The top-notch voice cast and superb art direction make for a dazzling experience to be sure. Even the 3D is used well, with plumes of snow and sand flying at the audience, while pulling them headfirst into the chases and fights. It’s just the right amount of gimmick, and never really becomes overbearing.

It is a little disappointing then, that with so much effort going into crafting such an exciting, beautiful fantasy that a little more attention wasn’t paid to the story. Once audiences look past the exterior sheen they’ll find a tale that just doesn’t hold up, and seems to run on it’s own bare logic. Where is the Jack-o-Lantern guardian of Halloween, or the Cupid guardian of Valentine’s Day? And why for that matter, are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny hanging out with the Tooth Fairy? It all seems a little arbitrary. Even though it’s a beautifully crafted animated film, it sometimes feels as though the characters are making it up as they go. The same problems apply to the villain as well; Pitch (Judge Law) is the bad-guy because he dresses like a vampire and likes to pick on kids, but don’t go looking any further for motivation. He’s just plain evil and that’s all you need to know.

Despite nit-picking the storyline, Rise of the Guardians does much more right than it does wrong. Even if the core plot leaves more to be desired, it still gets the major themes right. Audiences will learn about the importance of friendship and family, and that it’s your actions that define you, not your reputation. As far as family friendly popcorn-fare goes, you can’t do much better than Rise of the Guardians this holiday season. Children and adults around me we’re both marveling at the visuals, and the film is such a fun ride that it’s easy to forgive and forget what flaw might come under scrutiny in a different sort of movie. If you’ve got kids and you want to take them to a movie that isn’t a chore to sit through yourself, it’s easy to recommend Rise of the Guardians.