For all that it is, I enjoyed Rise of the Guardians as a film that offers a twist to the iconic holiday and mythological characters adults tell their children about, and does so in a way that doesn’t taint what attracts us to these characters in the first place. This isn’t to say you should expect anything too far outside the norm from a storytelling perspective, but the fact it’s based on the book by William Joyce, whose magical animated short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won the Oscar last year, should give some allusion to the imagination that inspired it into being.
Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire, whose genre reach spreads from Inkheart to Rabbit Hole as well as a hand in scripting an upcoming Poltergeist remake, Rise of the Guardians begins by introducing us to the titular Guardians — Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and the Sandman (he doesn’t talk). These are four characters whose talents and abilities we’ve known for our entire lives, but those talents for bringing joy and happiness to children are more important in our world than we may know.
For children to believe in these four is for them to have hopes, beliefs and imagination in their heart, but when that belief is threatened by the evil Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law) the Guardians must add one more to their fold.
Enter Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a mythical character with a mysterious past. He finds joy in having fun, entertaining children by instigating snowball fights and white-out conditions that force Snow Days at school. But the Guardians come calling on him for help against Pitch, whose found a way to turn the Sandman’s pleasant dreams into nightmares, disrupted the Tooth Fairy’s obligations, threatening Easter and the children’s belief is fading fast.
With the plot description out of the way and the dire picture I’ve painted it all comes down to this… From a plot perspective, Rise of the Guardians isn’t breaking new ground. A group of protagonists are threatened by an antagonist and must band together to restore order. There are things that make each character who they are, something special inside, funny one-liners will be found and like Despicable Me, Santa too has his “Minions” though here they are separated into an army of good-for-nothing elves and furry Yetis, the latter of which, we learn, do all the work in Santa’s workshop.
The charm I found in this film lay wholly with its conceit, which is that of Santa, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, et. al coming together to introduce a “behind-the-scenes” mythology that adds to our current understanding of what each of these characters do.
I found the animation to be excellent and far better when in motion compared to the still images released by the studio. There is a wonderful amount of detail in each frame, perhaps almost too much at times as Santa tracks all the children of the world on a massive globe inside his workshop that is so intricately designed you could probably study a still frame for 5 minutes and still miss a detail the production threw in there. The Tooth Fairy’s world is similarly intricate as is the Easter Bunny’s Aztec-inspired realm. I’ve no idea if these characters originated from such roots, but the fact the filmmakers relied on something more than what is generally known to most of us is an example of the higher level of character background they attempted to achieve.
Therein lies the rub, the characters are well-developed, but the story is rather vanilla. I won’t begrudge anyone that finds the film lacking in original story arcs. I’ll agree it largely follows a course set by most films before it and even I had to shrug my shoulders just before the third act. But amid all the common story tropes there was enough imagination to capture my attention, though if I was ten-years-old or younger I probably would have absolutely loved it.