It’s strange to think that the various folkloric figures present in our culture have never been retooled into action heroes. Rise of the Guardians does exactly this, as an all-star cast of well-known characters team up to save the earth. The film’s characters are far from obscure — Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman have been in our culture’s collective consciousness for decades. In Rise of the Guardians, however, their role has shifted from being simple gift givers to protectors of children across the world.
The one character that does rise to new heights is the newest guardian, Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Recently appointed as a guardian by the moon, he is forced to join forces with the rest of the cast in order to thwart the evil plan of the boogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law). The villain’s plan involves replacing dreams with nightmares and ensuring that children no longer believe in the guardians, removing the source of their power. The film makes no attempt to stall the narrative — at least not right away — as it jumps into this plot almost immediately. The villain is established, the good guys are introduced and we await a war that will end all wars. However, that is something audiences are forced to wait a long time to see.
Instead of putting the protagonists into action-hero roles that they are ready and willing to fulfil right off the bat, the film first feels the need to show the guardians act out each other’s traditional roles. For example, the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) loses her minions, the ones that go around each night replacing teeth with coins, and the rest of the cast has to make up for that loss and perform those duties. This happens multiple times and serves little purpose, and is what makes Rise of the Guardians feel far too long despite its short 90 minute run time.
There are also, conveniently, two action scenes that happen off-screen. They are mentioned by the characters but all the audience gets is the aftermath. The absence of these action scenes is perplexing, since they would presumably entertain the young target audience more than Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) stealing teeth from children. Perhaps it was to keep the tone unashamedly light, which the film succeeds in doing — it is almost admirable how innocent and happy it is throughout.
The secondary characters seem to be more important than the guardians themselves. Santa’s elves and yetis get more laughs than Santa despite spending far less time on-screen. The Tooth Fairy has a group of mini-faeries, which are cute and troublesome despite being so innocent. Jack Frost is the most bland of all the characters, although it’s hard to determine if this is because of his predictable character arc, the fact that he’s voiced by the less-than-enthusiastic Chris Pine, the lacklustre writing or the probable combination of all three. Only the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is enjoyable throughout. The Sandman is a mute and disappears early on in the film, only to be brought back near the end as a deus ex machina without any explanation.
As with most of Dreamworks’s animated pictures, the majority of the film looks very good. The animation is smooth, the backgrounds are detailed and every non-humanoid creature looks incredible. It’s the humans and human-like creatures that always seem to look off. It’s the poorly-rendered skin, which simply isn’t as detailed as the hair — it makes the animation look barely a step up from a Playstation 2-era Final Fantasy game. This is a problem when the majority of the cast are humans, or at least look human enough to be afflicted with this issue.
Rise of the Guardians is a film that will entertain its target audience, but unlike much of Pixar’s work or Dreamworks’s own Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, it isn’t going to do much for anyone over the age of 12 — even children may have hoped for it to be a lot more. However, it’s still a valiant effort and a decent execution of a novel idea, and it opens the doors for potential future instalments. Hopefully, the next one will make a believer out of me. This one didn’t quite do it.