Rise of the Guardians
Directed by Peter Ramsey
Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman in a kid-friendly League of Extraordinary Gentlemyths is a pretty irresistible concept, which may explain why William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood series of books was optioned at DreamWorks before it hit shelves. The animation giant has even taken care not to, well, DreamWorks it up too much, with Joyce (who won an Oscar for last year's short "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore") and company consultant Guillermo Del Toro both on hand as executive producers. Chattering, yammering, and pointless commotion are kept to a minimum.
Yet there's still something prefabricated and antsy about this well-animated, reasonably diverting feature, during which one guardian actually rises: Jack Frost, who's about 100-years-old though he looks like a 15-year-old skater and sounds an adult Chris Pine, who provides the voice. His origin—the movie finds him submerged in water, minus his memories—bears odd resemblance to Jason Bourne, while his reluctant indoctrination to the Santa-led Guardians recalls Wolverine joining the X-Men.
But the hero that Frost and pretty much everyone else in the movie most physically resembles is Spider-Man, thanks to endless scenes of running, jumping, and flying over rooftops all over the world. Computer animation, of course, is a medium well-suited for leaps and bounds, and all of that whooshing is a good way to show off 3D. It's also a good way to bound into excess. Just months ago, my eyes widened at a hyperbolic, building-crashing chase sequence in Madagascar 3; Rise of the Guardians feels less frivolous, but by the end of the movie, the effects diminish.
The animators do have other talents to show off: Santa (Alec Baldwin, using an Eastern European accent rather than coasting on his velvety smoothness) has workshop assistance from chattering elves and, to do the heavy lifting, packs of Yeti, while the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher, charming even offscreen) has a swarm of bird-sized assistants at her disposal—and none of them speak slang or drop pop-culture references! But the fantastical explanations about how baby teeth contain memories and the Guardians may turn invisible if children don't believe in them send the movie into mythology overload. Like Joyce's flying-books short, Rise of the Guardians doesn't impose rules so much as storybook whims treated with unwhimsical seriousness—or at least the kid-movie version of seriousness, which involves cliches about making a mess of everything, getting people to believe in you, and so forth.
The Guardians come together to ward off the evil Pitch (Jude Law), who wants to give kids bad dreams and feed off their fear. The character looks great, like a living charcoal drawing, but I didn't quite understand the screenplay's connections between nightmares, living in fear, and ceasing to believe in Santa Claus; put together, some nice sentiments begin to feel limited and oddly coddling. Do children really need protection from bad dreams? Pixar movies often turn their characters into parent surrogates (when those characters aren't actual parents), with real emotional depth. But among the Guardians, only Jack Frost has concerns outside of protecting children—which melt away when he realizes protecting children is his calling. The faith of kids, one of the Guardians explains, is "all that we have." It sounds sweet, I guess, but also a little sad. The heroes do indeed keep the grown-up world at bay: Rise of the Guardians is an agreeable if workmanlike kid movie, but there's not much for adults here.
Opens November 21