Aaaaand cue the annual big Christmas family movie. There are only three things in life that are certainties – death, Nicolas Cage accepting a film role, and a family friendly festive film to warm the yuletide cockles. Last year we had the lovely Arthur Christmas and this year Dreamworks have taken on the mantle with Rise of the Guardians. What? Wait, that can’t be right. It’s set at EASTER?!
Plot thus: The children of the world are looked after by four Guardians – Santa (Alec Baldwin (voice only, it’s all animated)), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the (voiceless) Sandman. However, an ancient evil known as Pitch Black (Jude Law) threatens to turn all of the children’s dreams into nightmares and make them stop believing in the current Guardians. To combat the threat, a petulant Jack Frost, struggling to work out the reason for his existence, is enlisted to join the legendary group.
So, yeah the film is set at Easter. A pretty bizarre move from Dreamworks considering the time of year the film has been released and that one of the main characters is Mr Claus himself. However, as the film involves kids questioning the existence of these childhood figures, basing the whole thing at Christmas might lead to a few too many awkward questions this time of the year. Much safer to bash Monsieur Lapin instead. Despite that it is still essentially a Christmas film in all but time of the year. There’s loads of snow and ice, a bloke with a big white beard riding a sleigh, and plenty of fun and frivolity. Pretty much all you need.
Rise of the Guardians presents said Guardians (some of them, at least) in a genuinely refreshing way, which helps it stand out from the usual incarnations. Santa has a Russian accent, carries a sword and has ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ tattoos on his arms, making him seem like something from Eastern Promises, whilst the Easter Bunny is a 6’1″ boomerang-throwing Australian. However, not all the characters are quite so interesting. Emo Jack Frost is a disgruntled, angsty teenager (complete with stylish spiky hair and hood) who for the most part of the film is just a bit whiny, although he does become more of an interesting character as the film progresses. Similarly, the Tooth Fairy spends much of her time fawning over Jack or crying: hardly a strong female role. As the big bad villain, Pitch (bearing more than a little resemblance to Hades from Disney’s Hercules) is also really quite boring. Visually, he’s as interesting as an office chair, whilst his motives are more than a little wishy-washy. His scary demon horse things are pretty cool though.
It’s an interesting universe that is created here, inspired by William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, and there are times that you wish for a little more insight into the characters’ backgrounds. If all the Guardians were once normal humans, why were they picked to become the Guardians? We learn Jack’s story but no-one else’s. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how much you liked this film), there is ample room for potential sequels which, if this does well, will surely follow.
The story isn’t really anything new at its core, however. It’s a ‘face up to your fears’/’coming of age’ story that has been told plenty of times before, although this does offer its own unique take. There are some overly corny moments fresh from the Big Book of Vomit-Inducing Cliches but as it’s essentially a children’s film, that can be overlooked. Despite that, there are a couple of darker moments (not just the visual ones caused by the 3D) that do give the film a bit more depth. Talking of depth, the aforementioned 3D works pretty well for the most part aside from a couple of blurry moments and delivers a couple of genuine ‘jump out of the screen’ moments. Whether that’s a good thing is entirely up to you. The visuals in general are very impressive whilst lacking the spit and polish that comes from some of Dreamworks’ competitors, namely the Mouse House and associated studios.
Like the journey a humble carpenter and his suspiciously pregnant wife (supposedly) made all those years ago at this time of year, many families like to make a trip to check out a good ol’ family film come the holiday season, and they could certainly do worse than Rise of the Guardians.