Rise of the Guardians review
Fun but kind of soulless.
Yes, I’m back on the reviews and will try to keep up on them. Things on the commercial site are busier than ever and I’m kind of going nuts on it, but I think I finally have things back under control. By the way, if you didn’t read my last post about my friend burning his ass with a hot pocket I highly recommend it. I’m still laughing.
So, Rise of the Guardians. Honestly I think this movie is just a little too polished and perfect. It’s like if Data from the Next Generation were to write a kids movie script (Data image courtesy of the Star Trek T Shirt category). He would reference every known source for kids movies, examine every film and treatise available, and ultimate come out with a script that had all the right elements and was technically perfect but ultimately lacking in heart and soul.
This movie was technically perfect. Classic kids references, some humor, and plenty of bright images to entertain the wee tots. However, while I sat in the theater doing my usual “creepy single guy at a childrens film” thing I noticed that a lot of the kids were not really laughing or enthralled in the film. A good kids film should entertain children while having enough adult jokes and references to keep the parents from falling asleep. Wreck it Ralph is a perfect example of this. Honestly I think this one landed too heavily on the adult side of things. The characters and plots were too complex, and the villain was honestly scary. I think the producers wanted to do something more like Coraline but managed to miss the adult wonder of it. This film felt more like it was written for teenagers than kids or adults, except I really doubt teenagers would go see it.
I really went to see this film because it has grossly underperformed in the box office for what a holiday kids film is supposed to do this time of the year and I wanted to see if it was a train wreck. I really think the failure to lock onto the real demographic for kids is the big problem. I also see this as an study of hubris. Calling any film “the Rise of” basically says “We the studio are going to spontaneously create a franchise and you mouth breathing unwashed masses will attach yourself to it because we say you will.” The title says the producers were so confident of this films success that they have already written the next four sequels, and I honestly believe that the one thing that unites the unwashed masses is a resistance to being told what to like. It’s subtle, but I think when at the box office most of the people on line do not want to get sucked into a franchise they know nothing about. Title failure IMO.
On the other hand, this film is one of the more visually stunning films I have seen. I liked that aspect because it really shows what good, well applied CGI is capable of. The images and art direction is great. I will also give massive props for the very creative re imagining of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sand Man, and the Easter Bunny. If this isn’t what the real classic character are like in a perfect world they would be. Santa is a brusk, Russian, sword wielding Czar, the Tooth Fairy a hyper type A fairy assisted by thousands of tiny mini fairies, the Sand Man a whimsical silent fat kind soul, and the Easter Bunny (my personal favorite) a 6’5″ Aussie jackrabbit with boomerangs. Jack Frost (the protagonist) is a white haired hipster prankster with the power of winter.
Of course, all great comic-like movies rest on the strength of the villain, and in this case they pulled it off with Pitch Black, the Boogieman. I say pulled it off because while he was perfectly executed he was entirely formulaic in his style, plan, and personality. This is really where the soullessness comes in. He is like the perfect villain grown in a medical lab, with just the right element of sinister yet weirdly appealing and human. I can’t put my finger on what it is about this film that seems too polished, but I think a lot of it resides in Pitch.
The story. Jack Frost is an independent sprite who wanders around causing kids to have fun in winter. He was created by the Man in the Moon, some kind of ill defined god or king. Jack gets drafted into the Guardians, a team of mythical fairy tale creatures who’s vague job is to protect the children of the world. Their relative strength resides in how many children believe in them (anyone ever read Hogfather by Terry Pratchet? If so this story will seem suspiciously familiar) and since no one really believes in Jack Frost he is the one with the least solidity. Pitch Black is bitter because no one believes in the Boogieman any more and so sets on a course of taking over the Sand Mans dreams to instil nightmares into the children while at the same time convincing the kids that the others don’t exist, thus draining their power (this was a little vague, by the way. At the beginning of the film no one believed in Jack Frost yet he had all kinds of winter related super power, but as the others lost believers they all were drained or diminished. Also the loss of belief happened with all the gradual pacing of flipping off a light switch).
Anyway, at that point it is the classic struggle of good verses evil. We get to see some great visuals (I especially liked the Easter Bunny’s kingdom) and Pitch does what villains usually do. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but really there is nothing in here that would really surprise you.
With kids movies I don’t do the stars/black holes. I usually judge them by how well the kids in the audience seemed to be responding. By that basis I think I’m going to have to deem this film not so great. Kids were not laughing or going nuts. There were long stretches of dialog and expository flashbacks that I think a kid would find downright boring. Pitch Black was honestly scary (the film got a well deserved PG rating) and there was even one death (sort of) scene. I honestly think this film tried way to hard to appeal to everyone and ultimately didn’t really appeal to anyone. Jack Frost was in there to appeal to the teenage girls (geez, they even got Chris Pine to do the voice), there were cute walking Easter Eggs for the little kids, and a fairly complex story involving torturing kids in their dreams for the adults. Trying too hard IMO.
Worth seeing? If you like animated movies then sure. The visuals alone make it worth the time. However, if you are only going to see one animated film this season I think Wreck It Ralph is way better. Take your kids to see it? Sure, if you are desperate, but I think Ralph again is better. Date movie? Yes. Not as good as Ralph, but good nonetheless. Bathroom break? Weirdly enough this is one film where I think the action scenes are the more disposable. The best visuals and character development are in the non action films, and when the fighting starts it tends to get kind of muddied up.
Thanks for reading, and look for my Life of Pi review tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have comments on this film or my review of it feel free to post them here. If you have off topic questions or suggestions email them to email@example.com. Talk to you soon.