Rise of the Guardians Review: Take That, Uncanny Valley!

This is what I imagine the creative process for Rise of the Guardians began:

Guy #1:  Oh my god, dude, what if we made a movie that had Santa Clause, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman and Jack Frost team up to fight The Boogieman! *passes bong*

Guy #2:  “Dear lord, that’s *takes a hit* Amazing! *bursts out in laughing/coughing fit*

And you know what the weird thing is?  It works.  Not quite Pixar level, sure (starting to sound like a broken record on that one, I know…), but it works.  Sure it’s formulaic and suffers from a few crippling logical fallacies, but damn it if Rise of the Guardians isn’t the best looking animated movie I have ever seen.

The Plot:

Unbeknownst to most of the world, all of the lies our parents told us are real.  Known as The Guardians, Santa Claus aka North (Alec Baldwin), The Easter Bunny aka Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy aka Tooth (Isla Fisher) and The Sandman aka Sandy work together to spread their gifts of joy, wonder and happiness to the children of the world.  When those children are threatened by the nightmares of The Boogeyman aka Pitch, Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is called upon to join The Guardians and save the world from the fear-mongering villain.  Resisting at first, Jack eventually agrees to help in the hopes of unlocking the secret of who he was before he became the Spirit of Winter.

The Players:

When I first saw the trailer, I was a little thrown off by Chris Pine’s voice coming from the animated Jack Frost.  It just didn’t seem to fit the visual character, which is a problem a lot of animated movies encounter when they have such a recognizable celebrity provide the voice (a problem which I’m expecting Dreamworks’ upcoming film The Croods will have with Nicholas Cage).  Luckily, for whatever reason this issue didn’t persist throughout the actual film for me, and Jack Frost ends up being a perfectly enjoyable main character.  I thought his back story could have used a bit more fleshing out, but oh well.

I also didn’t think I would enjoy the other Guardians as much as I did.  Jackman’s Bunny isn’t given the most imaginative writing (most of his lines are just Australian-sounding phrases put into normal conversation) but isn’t nearly as annoying as I expected.  Some feminists may not like how pixie-ish Fisher’s Tooth ended up coming across, but she’s at least a lively presence.  Before the movie I was trying to find who did the voice of Sandy on IMDb without any luck, until it began and I realized that he doesn’t talk.  Instead he is only able to communicate through the sort of 3-D Etch-A-Sketch created by his “Sand”, an effect which has been done similarly before in animated movies but is still cute.  I was probably the most surprised by how much I enjoyed Baldwin as North, who plays Santa Claus as a tattooed, sword wielding Russian with an army of diminutive elves and not-so-diminutive Yeti at his disposal.  Wait a second, an animated character voiced by an American actor speaking in a fake Russian accent surrounded by an army of adorable “minions”?  No, this is not Despicable Me, though it’s hard not to see aspects of the film like this that betray how obvious Dreamworks’ formula can be.  In any case, Baldwin pulls of the Russian accent admirably, and it ended up fitting very well with the character.

As a final note in the characters section I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jude Law as Pitch.  I normally hate the villains in most modern animated movies, there almost always cartoonish to the point where it’s impossible to enjoy them above the age of 8.  Pitch is of a different breed, however.  Aside from the fact that he looks incredibly creepy, Jude Law absolutely nails the evil-sounding voice without going over the top.  It definitely helps that he’s got the bad-guy laugh down pat…

The Premise:

It seems to be the popular thing nowadays for movies to go to great lengths to create their own worlds and then spend a large amount of time creating the rules for those worlds.  Most of the time these worlds are fairly derivative of other works, but every now and then writers get bold and try to actually get creative (a word which Hollywood often seems to forget the meaning of).  While this boldness occasionally results in major duds, it also gives us the likes of The Matrix, Inception, Toy Story or, more recently, Wreck-It Ralph.  Rise of the Guardians strives follow along with the latter and create a world which mediates the fairy tale world of The Guardians and makes it work with the real on we live in.  The main pillars of this world are that beings like The Guardians are given power and existence from the belief of children around the world.  Unfortunately for Jack, this rule includes the caveat that if a child doesn’t believe in you, they can’t see you, and nobody believes in Jack Frost.  As Pitch spreads more and more fear around the world, the rest of the Guardians start to lose belief from children as well and risk becoming just as invisible and powerless as Jack

Perhaps you can already see the glaring flaw with this concept;  if a child can’t see Jack, they won’t believe in him, and therefore won’t see him.  On the flips side, if a child seeing a Guardian makes them visible to that child, of course they’re going to believe in that Guardian which will make them still see them and so on and so on.  The characters spend so much time trying to make sure that children believe in The Guardians by carrying out their duties (hiding Easter eggs, collecting teeth) in secret, when all they really would have to do to make people believe in them would be to walk down main street and shout “Hey, I’m the Motherf*cking Easter Bunny and I’m totally real”.  That or sign a TV deal with MTV to assure that nobody will ever be allowed to  forget that they exist (if only not believing in The Jersey Shore made them cease to exist…)

The Verdict:  7.5/10  Superior

+  Incredible beautiful animation that looks very real without entering the Uncanny Valley

+  Surprisingly enjoyable voice acting from Baldwin, Jackman and (especially) Law

+  A great balance of fun and seriousness in its tone

-  Some lazy screenwriting in the dialogue and a bit of a predictable plot

Other Reviews:

Dan the Man Movie Reviews:  7/10

Fogs’ Movie Reviews:  A

The Daily Rich: (Good, not Great)

Entertainment Maven: (Great)

I’m a Movie Nerd: (Great)

The Devil’s Advocates:  4.5/5

A Constant Visual Feast:  (Good)

Cutting Edge Creativity:  A-

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About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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7 Responses to Rise of the Guardians Review: Take That, Uncanny Valley!

  1. Beer Movie says:

    Great review, the start of it outlining the screenwriting process was hilarious. I was not at all keen for this flick, but after this review and a few others I think I might have to check it out. Being Australian, I do hold grave fears for how annoying the Hugh Jackman Easter Bunny character will though.

    • r361n4 says:

      thanks man, I’m interested to see what you think. I can imagine the Easter Bunny’s character being annoying if you’re Australian, or North’s character being annoying if your Russian, lol

  2. Great review, man. And very funny :)

  3. Mark Hobin says:

    Wow I’m clearly in the minority based on these reviews. You’re right, it does look good. I’ll give it that, But as your review alludes, putting all four characters in the same movie sounds like a brainstorm out of a drug induced haze. It could’ve been good, but the storytelling was too chaotic and frantic to really engage. I’m glad you enjoyed it at least.

    Click my name to see my detailed review.

    • r361n4 says:

      Just read your review, I do understand why you didn’t like it and I wouldn’t say I’m ready to exactly “rave” about it. Still, I try to keep a balance between staying optimistic but still being critical (which is why my scores typically hover between 6 and 8, lol). Now to see how Life of Pi strikes me…

  4. Pingback: Rorschach Awards Part 2: The Categories! | Rorschach Reviews

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