Film #107: Rise of the Guardians (2012)

rise-of-the-guardians-2director: Peter Ramsey
language: English
length: 97 minutes
watched on: 30 December 2013

I feel like Dreamworks’ animation quality is slipping with this movie. They’ve always been a bit hit-and-miss in terms of the quality of their movies, but the first thing that struck me when I watched this movie was how much worse the quality is than Disney and Pixar. In particular, since the last two movies I watched were Tangled and Brave, both of which attach great importance to the hair of the protagonist, the hair and fur in this movie seems flat and unrealistic by comparison.

The story isn’t much better, though. It’s a Christmas movie, although it’s actually set around Easter. In the story, there are four “guardians” of childhood: Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman (I’m still not 100% sure what the Sandman is, though), who are threatened by a boogieman called Pitch Black. They enlist the help of outcast Jack Frost. There’s something about the true meaning of childhood thrown in. Jack has an identity crisis along the way, which was a bit trite, but perhaps necessary for the story to progress.

A lot of the characters have odd visual choices about them. Some were clearly intended as jokes, but others seem hard to justify. Jack Frost isn’t so weird, as he’s modelled after a fairly typical teenage boy with silver hair. Santa is Russian, for some reason, complete with accent, and has yetis in his North Pole lair to make toys for children. His accent reminded me of Gru in Despicable Me a little too much, and later when he started mispronouncing Pitch as Bitch, I wondered if this wasn’t an attempt to get something past the censors.

The Tooth Fairy was funny overall, as she throws in extra jokes for the adults when she examines people’s teeth and comments on their incisors. I don’t have a view of the Sandman, so couldn’t comment. The Easter Bunny was a 6 foot tall kangaroo-shaped rabbit with an Australian accent, which was the weirdest of all. He was one of the particular places I noticed the lower quality animation most, as his fur didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

But Pitch Black was perhaps the most annoying character in the movie. He sprouts some kind of pseudo-philosophy to try and justify his actions, but it’s kind of half-hearted of the movie to do so, as he’s clearly just meant to be pure evil. His appearance is modelled on Voldemort, in my opinion, showing how much Harry Potter has penetrated the modern zeitgeist, and his accent is British, showing just how much Hollywood doesn’t like to change how villains are perceived.

Other examples of this America-centric attitude happen occasionally, although not always. One jarring moment came when they start delivering Easter eggs to China (portrayed as a city full of pagodas and temples and nothing else) – in case you hadn’t noticed, they don’t even celebrate Easter there – but in another moment, they travel to France and bump into a tooth mouse who the Tooth Fairy calls her European partner, showing a basic awareness of one culture but not another.

Altogether, it seems like a committee came together somewhere in Hollywood to try and throw together all the different aspects that they thought would make a good kids’ movie, and the end result is an incoherent mess, unfortunately. There are, as with most movies, some great moments within it, and it did feel at least like a whole world had been planned out around it (I think it was based on a novel). I liked the portrayal of Santa’s lair, particularly the yetis and the extra touches like Santa calling all the guardians with the aurora borealis. There’s a hint of criticizing the commercialism of the various portrayed holidays, as Jack admonishes the other guardians for not paying any attention to the children they’re supposed to be making happy – the sentiment is there, but not fully explored. But that doesn’t make it worth watching.

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