By Tim Posada, 11/29/2012
Imagine a superhero team composed of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and Jack Frost. These Guardians, chosen by the elusive Man in the Moon, are charged with the task of protecting the children of the world against various foes, like the Boogeyman. Well that’s “Rise of the Guardians”, a sensationally fun adaptation of William Joyce’s “The Guardians of Childhood” book series. Tim Allen step aside, the real Father Christmas is in the (North Pole) house, and he’s really throwing that jolly belly into action against all the big bad villains out there.
Meet the Guardians: the man behind Christmas cheer, North (Alec Baldwin); the quiet dream maker, Sandy; an Aussie rabbit, Bunny (Hugh Jackman); and the guardian of childhood memories, Tooth (Isla Fisher). They don’t meet up for coffee much, what with the various holiday seasons and the daily activity of helping children dream and get rid of all those pesky teeth. But Boogey, aka Pitch Black (Jude Law), rises from the shadows, and the Guardians must unite once more lest the world return to its archaic fears of a thousand years ago.
If Pitch’s nightmares become reality, the end of belief and imagination for all children will follow. But the Man in the Moon has an ace up his sleeve, a new guardian who understands Pitch’s plight all too well: Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a lesser known storybook figure who doesn’t quite know what his “center” is, or who he was in his human life. Like Pitch, children can’t see Jack because they don’t believe in him, unlike the big four, other than his seasonal ability to “nip at your nose.” So which side will Jack take as the tides shift in the landscape of hope and wonder?
More than mere spectacle, “Guardians” packs more laughs than any other animated feature this year. Elsewhere, the storylines are far more original than the original Freddy Kruger, hell bent on world domination through nightmares. But this one effectively combines the charm of memorable characters with adventure and humor.
“Guardians” is also as imaginative as it is hilarious. In this refreshing take on Kris Kringle’s lair, elves function like the minions in “Despicable Me”, while yetis do all the real work. In Bunny’s domain, eggs with legs dutifully hide themselves for the great hunts on Easter, while (I assume) tribal-shaped large ones guard the home front. And in her skyscape, Tooth oversees countless baby fairies charged with the task of collecting all the baby teeth in world, and the memories held in each of them.
The fun of “Guardians” lies in the reappropriation of classic elements. When thrown, snow globes create portals to various locations, and with the stomp of a foot, Bunny creates holes to anywhere. And Sandy’s dream sand can take on whatever shapes he imagines. The dream man himself, he’s got quite the imagination. It all makes for a splendid visual experience that DreamWorks Animation capitalizes on in one of the most stimulating and colorful animated features of the year.
After a substantial career of more than 20 years behind the scenes of various horror, sci-fi and action films, Peter Ramsey’s feature film directorial debut proves quite promising. Sure, most story elements feel all too familiar, but he knows how to bring this beautiful world to life and throw in several fantastic laughs along the way. And it doesn’t hurt that Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, concocted the screenplay (though his previous attempts, like his contributions on “Robots” and “Inkheart”, were less than memorable).
Perhaps the most delightful surprise here is filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s (director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy”) involvement. He tends to attach his production credit to a handful of films, including duds like “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Puss in Boots”, but “Guardians” marks a return to form –– and just in time, since he’s the co-writer of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, set to premiere in a couple weeks.
“Rise of the Guardians” won’t win any awards (though it does shine above Pixar’s “Brave”), but it’s a welcome holiday film that just might make you believe that a swash-buckling, Russian-accented Santa is more than a morbidly obese dude with a cookie fetish. For the purists, “Guardians” merely trivializes storybook characters by cashing in on the superhero fad. But for me, this one made me realize how much I wanted to see Santa double-wield swords alongside Sandman, who’s got moves like Spidey’s longtime foe. Forget Sandy “giving you a treat,” Chordettes, he’s got your number instead.
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