Review: Rise of the Guardians

So a while back I was pretty darned excited for Dreamwork’s Rise of the Guardians and, after watching the film on its opening day last Wednesday, I have to say it was a fun experience. But did it live up to the expectations, hype, and hope I had for the film several months ago?

This film definitely falls into the “Nice” list — in terms of visual style

Well, there’s the rub. That or maybe I’m a bit picky when it comes to “holiday” films (And yes, this is very much a seasonal kind of film). Either way, there’s no denying that Rise of the Guardians is a beautiful film that deserves to be lauded for its stunning visual work.

Rise of the Guardians is Dreamwork’s latest animated film based on William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood series–which is visually stunning in its own rights and worth checking out. Anyhow, it focusses on one reluctant hero, Jack Frost, who is enlisted by the Guardians–an elite group of folk-lore characters who protect the hopes and dreams of the children of the world–to help stop Pitch, the Boogeyman incarnate, as he tries to darken the world with fear. Along the way, Jack Frost discovers his “center,” his purpose for being who and what he is, and rises to help his fellow Guardians protect the world from Pitch’s clutches. If this sounds very The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, then yes, I think that was the general idea — but hey, it works out for this film, which is a pleasure to watch and a literal feast for the eyes.

So yes, before I wax poetic about the way the film looks, I believe it would be more prudent to perhaps provide you all with a visual demonstration of the sort of skill and artistic mastery the Guardians proudly displays:

Are you seeing this? Yes. That is stitching. Stitching and little bits of frosty detail. But the stitching – the most minute of details – and you might not notice it as he’s flailing about in the film but it’s there and just astonishing that they added every little detail to make Jack here look alive

Do you see the way the light reflects here? This is important for Tooth — who I believe is based off of a hummingbird — because her feathers are iridescent. They consistently change to have that purple sheen in certain light throughout the film and it’s just — mind-boggling beautiful to watch it in motion, to notice that hey, in this light there’s more depth to her feathers.

Also we’re going to do an extreme close-up here…

Because BAM. Details. Details everywhere — beautiful details that you don’t see in motion but that add that DEPTH that just makes this film this film.

In a nutshell: this film is gorgeous, with an eye towards texture and mood that definitely ranks it above other CG films. Say what you will about digital art and how it might seem “paltry” in comparison to traditional art, but you cannot deny that with films like Rise of the Guardians and with artists and programmers pushing boundaries, the animation industry continues to churn out beautiful films to watch.

The character designs have depth to them, whether through those tiny little details like the shimmer on Tooth’s feathers, or the stitching in Jack’s clothes, or the gritty-ness of the Sandman, there is a tangible feeling given to each character and stills do not do their animated movement much justice. Watching these characters in motion is a sight to behold — and one that actually fits right into the world mythology that the movie spins for its audience.

These imaginary folk-lore figures are brought to life with such stunning visuals, movement, and attention to those personal details that in the end make each and every one a distinct entity, and most importantly a believable entity. Overall, it’s a childhood dream come to life to see Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny not only doing their “jobs” but teaming up to kick some butt.

And yet, maybe because the film emphasizes and beautifully plays on childhood wonder and imagination, one shouldn’t walk into this movie expecting something beyond the tried-and-true “holiday” film. This is why perhaps Rise of the Guardians is not receiving the same warm reception as Wreck-it Ralph in the Box Office because beautiful art-work aside, the story is a hit or a miss with most people.

Rise of the Guardians certainly handles its characters well, dealing with and demonstrating issues of “isolation” and the desire to be “accepted” pretty well — but the overall theme of the film seems to try to box itself into the typical “holiday” film. You know, the ABC Family 25 Day’s of Christmas kind of holiday film.

For one thing, its timing is perfect for the incoming holiday season, especially in nostalgically drawing in on some of the tropes from our favorite Rankin-Bass themed movies: the perseverance of child-hood wonder, the spirit of imagination, the tried-and-true “we will always be in your heart” kind of deal.  It’s a heart-warming call-back for some people, but unlike the sort of “video game in-joke-nostalgia” that Ralph used to draw in crowds, Rise of the Guardians is trying its hardest to draw on a different kind of childhood nostalgia, one that seeks out that imaginative little kid who believed. Unfortunately, it’s a sort of nostalgia that might be harder for some people to resonate with, or even suspend their own current cynicism to enjoy the film’s overall message.

It’s a movie that tries to redefine common folklore but also falls to using some tried-and-true holiday movie tropes to wrap up its main conflict — not necessarily a bad thing but not the most revolutionary story-telling practice, either.

Overall — this is a pretty solid movie, despite a few of the plot-point quips I have with it (Remember guys, childhood wonder ex machina). It’s no Wreck-it Ralph in terms of sentimental story-telling punch, but Rise of the Guardians is a fun film to add to the “holiday movie” roster with fantastic animation that proves Pixar does not have a monopoly on digital art.

Pros:

– Beautiful art throughout from the landscapes to the individual character designs. Go in for the animation if you can.

Cons:

– Jumbled plot points and perhaps over-used sentimental message; be aware that you’re not walking into a film with the most ground-breaking story, but it’s sweet in its simplicity

Rating: 3.5/5

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

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