Every Christmas, I hope for a Holiday treat to take home in my memory and warm me up for the holidays. Last year I got “Artur Christmas”, a delightful re-imagining of the Santa Claus story. In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to see “A Christmas Story” and “One Magic Christmas” and “The Santa Clause” as part of my Christmas season. Now those films are old chestnuts that we can bring out on video during the season and enjoy again. This Christmas, there basically are no Christmas themed films. I am not sure what happened to Hollywood, whether they have given up on Holiday films or if there are simply no more stories to tell. The closest we have come this year to a seasonal film is “Rise of the Guardians”, a children’s adventure animation that features Santa Claus as a character but actually takes place around Easter.
I did not have high hopes for the film going in. The story sounded a little complicated and it reminded me of some bloated drama, straining for relevance and trying to build a franchise. The idea of a team of heroes working together goes back thousands of years. Earlier this year we had “The Avengers”, so it is not a new concept. It just seemed to me that The Sandman, The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Jack Frost were pushing it a little bit. None of these folklore really seem the action hero type. However, it has been too long since I saw the inside of a movie theater, my daughter was really up for it, and it was as close to a holiday movie as I was going to get this year so I plunged in. I am happy to report that I quite enjoyed myself, and while it may not be a holiday perennial, “Rise of the Guardians” should entertain you and the youngsters for a couple of hours and leave you with some pleasant memories.
This is an animated film, and that does mean nowadays that computers are being used to render the illustrations in a lifelike way. The drawings are beautifully designed and they come up with some creative ideas to make things a little fresh. The Easter Bunny for instance is not a cuddly little rabbit bu a well muscled and armed hare, with an Australian accent courtesy of Hugh Jackman. I don’t know that there is a reason for these slight changes, but they do make the story seem a bit more unique. Santa Claus appears to be Russian, with dark trim on the red suit instead of white. He is also tattooed with the naughty and nice lists on each of his forearms. I guess this is a tip to the now well known trope of “Love” and “Hate” on each hand. Santa also carries two big sabers, maybe that is why he needs to be Russian, to justify his choice of weapons. While both the Bunny and Santa sling those weapons around at different points, they are never directed at actual human beings. It might be a bit traumatizing for the Easter bunny to bash in a head with a boomerang or for Santa to decapitate a villain before he comes down the chimney into your house.
The other “Guardians” , designated by the Man in the Moon to protect the innocence and dreams of the children of the world, are given much more backstory. The Tooth Fairy, is designed as a cross between a rainbow trout and a butterfly. She is assisted by thousands of miniature fairies who do the actual collecting of teeth. The Sandman for some reason has no voice but appears to have the greatest amount of power of all the guardians. He is vividly brought to life as a golden imp who spreads magic dust and can command some of the elements to assist him. The newest Guardian is Jack Frost, a reluctant draftee in the battle against fear that the guardians are to undertake. The story takes the greatest liberties with his appearance and history. In the end it works very well at giving us a little mystery and a rooting interest. As Jack is the newest of the Guardians, I suppose he is also the most vulnerable, so that is why he is the main propagandist standing up against “Pitch” Dark, also known as the “boogeyman”.
There are a few too many direct confrontations between Jack and Pitch. The use of frosted lightening against black sand becomes a little repetitive after a couple of these confrontations. The final resolutions are pretty traditional by children’s heroic standards. All of it is beautifully illustrated, the design of the backgrounds, and the details of the characters are really well worth the money you’ll spend seeing this. Santa’s elves reminded me quite a bit of the minions from “Despicable Me”. The Tooth Fairy and her “baby” faeries are a little precious, but kids will love them, and it is a lot less scary to think that they are coming into your bedroom at night rather than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I also liked the fact that while there was a song, it was not inserted into the film, but played over the credits. Sometimes a movie like this can be a little cloying by the presence of a musical moment. I remember how the song in “Hook” took us out of the story, even though it was a nice tender moment. Nothing like that here.
“Rise of the Guardians” is a colorful adventure story for kids. It has enough inventiveness to make the characters feel a little more “new” while still sticking to some traditional roots of those characters. The idea of a team of heroes is not as far fetched as it first seemed to me to be, and the look of the movie is really solid. While it is not a true holiday film, it plays like one because of the audience it appeals to and the characters it features. I was impressed with some of the creativity and story telling, even if it did seem convoluted at times. A solid family film that doesn’t insult your intelligence.