Directed by Peter Ramsey
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on the book by William Joyce
With Madgascar 3 clearly filling in Dreamworks’ pure comedy of the year, I was expecting Rise of the Guardians to fill in more of the serious heart, especially with the trailer’s emphasis on action and comparisons to How to Train Your Dragon. Instead, what we get is a mixed bag.
Jack Frost (Chris Pine) likes his fun-filled existence of creating winter and starting snowball fights, but he doesn’t like the fact that none of the kids believe in him. When the boogie man, AKA Pitch Black (Jude Law) starts planning to ruin childhood beliefs, Jack ends up recruited into the Guardians, consisting of Santa Claus (a Russian-accented Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and the Sandman to fight back.
Here’s the big plus of the movie: it looks fantastic. Just the work that has gone into Sandman’s abilities alone show that, with the sand clearly showing through with all his creations. Characters look great, the environments are vivid. And continuing the Dreamworks tradition, it uses the 3D effects well. This is a movie based on wonder, and it just leaves the audience in awe. It also has some great ideas here with how the Guardians get their tasks done. From the Tooth Fairy’s minions to a scene of Easter eggs being decorated, it’s clearly well thought of. The action scenes are great and exciting. Even the humor tends to work fairly well, and there’s enough of it to keep the movie light.
So why am I not just in love with this movie? One word: story. The movie doesn’t have a clear enough direction here, so it just meanders around. The Guardians have to do the Tooth Fairy’s job. Then they have to save Easter. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels like we’re just going through the motions. I was expecting them to have to save Christmas next. When they’re not doing something, I just wanted the movie to get going. Pointless scenes throughout had me bored. And the movie is also weighed down with exposition. The fact that Jack isn’t believed in, so the kids can’t see him? It’s repeated at least three times in the first half of the movie alone. A pivotal moment in the climax feels the need to flash back to a scene that was shown 10 minutes ago. It hammers the ideas in instead of letting them naturally develop. And then there’s just logical flaws. For instance, Pitch Black’s plan makes no sense. He wants to be believed in too, so he makes it so the Guardians aren’t believed in, which…doesn’t help him at all. And the world works on belief-based powers, but Pitch and Jack are two of the strongest characters. It almost feels like, for all the exposition they did, some very important plot points were left out. Pitch in general is just a very generic villain that doesn’t feel fully realized. He has the same creation abilities as Sandman, but he never does anything with them besides make horses (they’re nightmares). I would’ve loved to see some great scary monsters, but there’s nothing.
As much as I hate to say this, Rise of the Guardians is a kids movie. Kids will probably love the world, the jokes, the action sequences, and the message to believe. Adults are the ones who will care about a story that goes nowhere and endless exposition. Not Dreamworks’ worst, but easily their biggest disappointment in recent years.