Jack Frost puts a sparkle in the eyes of innocent children and fun-loving moviegoers in Rise of the Guardians, an Avengers for the kiddie set filled with awe-inspiring set pieces, whimsical twists on familiar mythologies, and a complex villain who’s just chilling enough to strike fear in the hearts of youngsters without giving them the nightmares that he thrives on. Imaginative and visually dazzling, it’s a contemporary classic for all holidays.
As North (aka Santa Claus, voice of Alec Baldwin) oversees preparations for the Christmas season from his bustling workshop at the North Pole, a malevolent force that hasn’t been seen since the Dark Ages returns with a vengeance. His name is Pitch (voice of Jude Law) and he’s the bogeyman incarnate. Determined to ensure that the balance of power remains with the forces of light, North rallies the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), Tooth (aka the Tooth Fairy, voice of Isla Fisher), and Sandy (aka the Sandman) to help drive Pitch back into the shadows. Together, North and his crew are the Guardians, a group of mythological figures sworn to protect the innocence of children everywhere. This time, as the Guardians unite to defeat an old foe, the Man in the Moon reveals that a new warrior has been chosen to join them in battle: Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine), a wind-riding mischief maker with no memory of his past. When Pitch begins replacing the dreams of children with nightmares in a bid to get them to stop believing in North and company, it’s up to the Guardians to defeat him and solve the mystery of Jack’s origins. Pitch is a powerful enemy, but just when it seems as if he’s gained the upper hand over his fabled counterparts, the Guardians get some much needed assistance from unlikely allies.
When it comes to portraying the holiday figures that have become so ingrained in our collective consciousness over the centuries, adding something new into the mix can be a risky endeavor. Many storytellers have tried to reinvent the mythological characters that we’ve passed down through tradition, though few have succeeded. In adapting the book by author William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Inkheart, Rabbit Hole) effectively breathes new life into the legends beloved by generations -- and achieves this formidable feat in a way that feels smart and entirely organic. From an inked-up Russian Santa who remains jolly even when wielding a pair of swords in battle to an Easter Bunny with an attitude and a thick Aussie accent, his twists on the iconic characters who populate Rise of the Guardians take numerous liberties while retaining the core values and traits that endeared us to them in the first place. Meanwhile, once that new groundwork has been laid, Lindsay-Abaire plunges them into a conflict where the stakes are high, the connection between the hero and the villain runs deep, and the only thing that limits the action is the author’s imagination. Between Joyce and Lindsay-Abaire the breadth of inspiration is fairly bountiful, and director Peter Ramsey does a wonderful job of realizing it visually.
A prolific storyboard artist whose filmography includes work for Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black), David Fincher (Fight Club), and Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), Ramsey has a great eye for detail that’s complemented wonderfully by a talented crew of animators, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (working as a visual consultant), and gorgeous art direction by Max Boas (Kung Fu Panda). From the frayed textures of North’s sweater to the sparkling winter landscapes and fluid action direction, Rise of the Guardians is a visual feast that uses 3D in all the right ways. At the same time, the unmistakable fingerprints of executive producer Guillermo del Toro can be sensed in the nightmarish, German Expressionism-inspired lair of Pitch, and with original author Joyce also onboard in the same capacity, we can rest assured that his vision remained faithfully intact. For moviegoers who have been burned a few too many times by films that strive to be new holiday mainstays, it would be easy to overlook Rise of the Guardians. After all, outside of the talented voice cast its greatest assets are modestly buried deep in the credits. Like a treasure hidden in plain sight, this is one film that will no doubt be cherished by children and adults who are fortunate enough to recognize its enchanting glimmer. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan