Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Rise of the Guardians": Magic, but You Better Believe! (Includes an Update)

Rise of the Guardians 
Directed by Peter Ramsey
Produced by Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein 
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire 
Composed by Alexandre Desplat 
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Studio: Dreamworks Animation

Like Disney, Dreamworks has been on an uphill streak for quite some time now. Films like Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon were miles ahead of anything Dreamworks has put out from 2004-07. Down were the pop-culture references and toilet humor as the studio focused more on the storytelling which plagued the films released from the aforementioned years. After the release of Bee Movie in 2007, the company was about to change their approach on their films for the better. Fast forward five years later into the year 2012. This is where we enter into Rise of the Guardians...

Told briskly in 97 minutes, this movie tells the tale of Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and Jack Frost who ban together to fight the common enemy known as Pitch (The Boggeyman). This group known for being the heroes of imagination of children around the world will be put to the test when they have to defend everything they know against this despicable villain.

As you could tell from the marketing, Rise of the Guardians looked essentially like The Avengers, but with holiday characters. Each of the holiday characters are treated like heroes that are assembled together to fight off a menacing villain. There is a origin story for Jack Frost, which is parallel to that of Wolverine from the original X-Men movie. Jack is a loner with no memory of his past who gets brought into a team of heroes and must accept his place with his new family. The plot, at its core, works due to the holiday setting.

This movie is absolutely gorgeous in the visual department. Del Toro's influence is very vivid in the design of the fantastic elements, from Pitch's lair or to The Easter Bunny's or Santa Claus' homes. The animation is very smooth, and picturesque, with a wonderful balance of color, lighting, and tone. The use of snow and sky was absolutely breathtaking.

Like Wreck-It Ralph, the casting here is solid. While I wasn't too crazy about Chris Pine providing the voice of a teenage character, he makes the character charming, roguish, and free spirited. A very likable lead here. Hugh Jackman is hilarious as The Easter Bunny. Alec Baldwin is wonderful as North. His Russian accent is a bit hard to get behind at times, but it's never distracting. Jude Law provides a creepy and marvelous performance as our antagonist, Pitch. Isla Fisher also provides a solid performance as The Tooth Fairy.

Rise of the Guardians has an almost perfect balance of dark/tearjerker moments along with some more comedic bits. The marketing made this movie look like one of Dreamworks' darker films, which it was. Though I could of done without the final battle being played for laughs, it proves to be an okay finale.

Before I went into this movie, I had never heard of director Peter Ramsey, whose background was as a storyboard artist on several different projects. He did a fantastic job in guiding this project and I hope we see more from him in the foreseeable future. He certainly comes close to topping Pixar at their own game with his directorial debut.

As I mentioned before, what made the recent Dreamworks movies work was their storytelling. While Rise of the Guardians is okay in that department, it's a step down from their previous efforts. Some of the plot tends to become a bit too confusing such as Jack's fulfillment. This isn't the only mistake writer David Lindsay-Abaire makes. There's a major plot development that takes place off-screen, which makes the rest of the movie confusing which is a bit too much of a distraction.

Aside from that, there were a couple minor problems I had with Rise of the Guardians. The sub-plot with Jack Frost wasn't very interesting. Once you realize how he becomes Jack Frost, it hits hard but his moping around for about 80% of the film feels a bit out of place with most of the hijinks that assures at Santa's North Pole. Also, the stuff with The Man on the Moon is a bit clunky in the story.

B- While it isn't up to par with some of Dreamworks' recent efforts, Rise of the Guardians is still a very good film in its own right. A definite holiday classic in the making.

Trailer Time
I caught a 2:35 matinee showing with my aunt. The theater was packed but not too much like Wreck-It Ralph. The audience seemed to really enjoy it as they applauded at the end. We got five trailers before the movie began.

Despicable Me 2: The same teaser with the minions singing their rendition of Barbra Ann. When will we get a new trailer?! Opens July 3, 2013 

Monsters Inc 3D: Already mentioned this with my review of Wreck-It Ralph, but I'm interested to see how the conversion turns out. Opens December 19

The Croods: This trailer was great. While I wasn't too crazy about the human designs, the animation on the different creatures looks wonderful. The visual designs of the scenery look very colorful. Chris Sanders really knows how to do work wonders in the visual department. Opens March 22, 2013

The Smurfs 2: The reason for this sequel is because the original was profitable. Not looking forward to this one. Opens July 31, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer: An upcoming adaptation of some fairy tale. Looks pretty good. Opens March 1, 2013 

That concludes my review of Rise of the Guardians. Did you folks enjoy this movie or think it was a misfire? Also, what do you think was the best animated film of 2012? Sound off! 

Update: I'm currently planning on doing a a series called Animation Look Back where I review animated films from the past. I will have a poll consisting of five animated films listed for me to review every couple of weeks. Another series I'm thinking about is a monthly Q&A, where you folks email any questions you want me to answer. Let me know what you think in the comments section. 

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