Here’s an idea for a movie: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sand Man, and the Tooth Fairy are all part of a secret league of heroes that protect the imaginations and happiness of children around the world from the forces of darkness. Sounds like a killer one line plot summary, doesn’t it? It’s kind of like The Avengers, but with even more timeless characters, or possibly even some sort of “league” of “extraordinary gentlemen”. And indeed, the premise worked wonders for children’s author William Joyce and his Guardians of Childhood series.
What it doesn’t work for, however, is the extremely loosely based film adaptation Rise of the Guardians, which is far more of the film that made Sean Connery quit acting for good and far less than a Marvel blockbuster. An incoherent, loud, and shockingly mean spirited mess, it looks great, but thematically seems akin to Michael Bay waking up one morning and just deciding to make a film for the under ten set. What should have been a chip shot here ends up being one of the most thoroughly disappointing botches of the early holiday season.
After battling him away years ago Pitch, the literal boogeyman (voiced by Jude Law), has come to strike fear back into the hearts and souls of the children of the world by taking away their belief in the titular league of heroes. Looking for extra help and in danger of losing their power, a heavily tattooed Santa surrogate named North (Alec Baldwin, doing a terrible Russian accent), the almost steroidal, Australian Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the mute Sandman, and the Tinkerbell-like Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), turn to the impestuous Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the ruler of all things cold and snowy, who still doesn’t know his place in the world yet is looking for a way for kids to actually believe in him like they do the rest of the team.
Director Peter Ramsay puts the focus squarely on action and spectacle to a ruthless degree. The film follows the Joel Silver and Michael Bay edict that an action sequence or action montage has to happen every five minutes like clockwork or the audience will get annoyed. It’s an interesting gambit to take this principal and apply it to a film aimed at youngsters, but it doesn’t pay off since this film featuring two holiday favourites and some of the most recognizable characters in childhood lore is devoid almost entirely of anything approaching wonder, wit, or genuine awe.
Jack is a massive jerk who constantly puts kids in danger, and once his backstory and past come to light it feels manipulative in one of the worst ways because the movie can’t even learn from the lessons Jack has learned by the end of the film. Pine does what he can in what’s sadly still the best film he’s been in this year, but he’s literally the only bright spot. Baldwin and Fisher are set adrift completely with nothing funny to do or say, and even Jackman only gets anything of substance in the final fifteen minutes. Law’s a fine villain, but his plans make absolutely zero sense and even kids could notice that the Guardians themselves could have stopped him at least 15 times on their own before things even would have begun to get out of control.
But no. Then we wouldn’t have a movie where people are whizzing around on sleds, or collecting teeth, or breaking into secret lairs. The movie starts literally five minutes in just after only telling us Jack’s backstory before suddenly cutting to North’s workshop to tell us everything has already changed. We know he’s Santa, but why do we care? Who is this guy ruining things? Why do they have to take all their cues from the Man in the Moon. Why is the man in the moon important? Why do Sandman’s dreams often involve visions of stingrays? WHAT CHILD DREAMS OF A STINGRAY? How can Pitch manipulate the Sandman? How did it get to that point? How does Jack know of everyone and how do the know of his reputation? What has the crew done in the interim? Why does the film need to include a homophobic joke and a sexist joke right at the climax? None of these questions are answered because writer David Lindsay-Abaire (who somewhat shockingly wrote the play Rabbit Hole) seems to think that childlike wonder is enough.
It’s not enough anymore, especially given the calibre of animated productions audiences have grown accustomed to. They deserve better than a film that simply throws the audience into something they don’t know about mid-story while they flail about trying to figure out what’s going on like a kid that’s just been thrown into the deep end for the first time. To make up for that, Ramsey overcompensates with some of the most ludicrous and stupifyingly forced action sequences since Green Lantern. None of it forwards the story whatsoever. It’s all there just so something happens because the story can’t bail any of them out.
It’s all loud, chaotic, and annoying, but even I know that it’s the kind of movie that I would watch as a 6 year old and think it was the coolest thing ever while my mom would just sink down in her seat patiently waiting for it to all be over. It’s the kind of film I would look back with some sort of misguided nostalgia and watch it thinking that it might still be good. Then I’d be crushed and sort of embarrassed that I liked it. What I’m trying to say is, don’t see Rise of the Guardians on your own. If you have a kid and they want to see it and they are under the age of 8, they might get a kick out of it if the always have low expectations or they just love going to the movies all the time. But whatever you do, be a guardian of their childhood and never let them watch the movie when they get older. Insist to them it was just a dream. It’s for the best.