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Rise of the Guardians Review: DreamWorks Takes a More Creative, Dark Turn

Carrying on the recent ensemble novelty in films, one that saw classic action stars team up for The Expendables and its sequel and superheroes assemble for the mega-smash The Avengers, DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians tosses together a slew of childhood memories drenched in mythos and lore and twists them into a gang off ass-kicking protectors of children – uhh, I mean butt-kicking, sorry kids. Creativity is certainly abound in this animated effort and even though it doesn’t always delve deeply enough into this fantasy world to be a classic worthy of wide-eyed worship, the strong voice work, punchy animation and that aforementioned creative spark combine into a intelligent diversion. Going one step further than simply amassing notable beings of legend, director Peter Ramsey and writer David Lindsay-Abaire (based on the William Joyce book) transform our preconceived notions of the characters that inhabit this tale. Santa Claus is a sword-wielding Russian known as North, the Easter Bunny is laden with boomerangs and heralds from “The Land Down Under” and the Sandman stands as a very real entity known as Hush. Also, a member of the guardians is “Tooth” (of the fairy variety) and the newcomer to the troupe is the film's hero: the bratty but fun-loving Jack Frost. Chosen for duty by The Man in the Moon, each guardian is picked not only to carry on his or her presumed duties (deliver presents, hide eggs, etc), but also have a role in preserving a certain facet of childhood. North, for instance, has a role “at his core” (as the man in red puts it) to keep wonder alive in the eyes of children. With Jack Frost called to arms against the sinister Pitch (as in “Pitch Black,” as in The Boogeyman), who is regaining his strength following a fall from power after the dark ages ended, he must stop the evil from spreading and find what his true role is in life. Of these legendary individuals, the most fascinating is actually Tooth, a member upon first glance who seems a bit out of place when talking about a clique of war-ready mythological beings. Plus, you know, touching a bunch of teeth for a living is kind of gross. You see Tooth’s role has had far more wide-reaching repercussions for the youth of the world: each tooth she collects represents a memory – a pure thought or moment that can be used later in that individual’s life when they need an epiphany, grounding, humbling or, perhaps a smile — most. Both hero and antagonist are also gifted with more background than you’ll see in your average film (of any medium) and both are actually quite tragic in their own right, though for decidedly different reasons. The circumstances that first made Jack into the harbinger of winter is deeply sad but later compels him to become the guardian he needs to be, and for Pitch his centuries of pseudo exile for doing only what his core drives him to do. Pitch is the type of villain where it is easy to understand his motivations, even if you thoroughly disagree with them. Rise of the Guardians is certainly one of the least funny DreamWorks products in recent memory, perhaps of all time. When Pitch isn’t infiltrating the dreams of kids with insidious-looking spirits, characters are being killed and intense action sequences are put on display. This is certainly not a film for young, young children. This slant of maturity as it turns out is the film’s biggest fault, in that its reliance on action to drive home the immensity of the threat and the continued strife in general takes us out of this fascinating universe. In the end, it offers only a little bit more than a skin-deep peak into the world of the guardians. However, Rise of the Guardians is a film destined to age wonderfully, especially for those who first experience it at the proper age. Adults should find this offering more to their taste over most in the genre and the tidbits of humor and the gorgeous rendering of it all will stand only as a bonus. On a final (and refreshing note), though there is absolutely sequel potential now that this team has been assembled, Rise of the Guardians is a solely isolated tale with a clear-cut beginning and end, thankfully sidestepping the curse of the (always blatant and embarrassing) open ending. Whether or not the guardians will return, DreamWorks has in a way stepped outside its comfort zone and delivered a fun and cultured Holiday-themed animated fable.


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