Rise of the Guardians


Rise of the Guardians

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…

(2012) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Dakota Goyo, Khamani Griffin, Kamil McFadden, Dominique Grund, Georgie Grieve, Emily Nordwind, Jacob Bertrand, Olivia Mattingly, April Lawrence. Directed by Peter Ramsey

 

Certain figures hold a kind of reverence in all of our childhoods; the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and of course Santa Claus. They are symbols of various aspects of our youth and remind us that who we are now is informed by who we were then. These figures are venerated because of their association with children. They are protectors of their innocence. They are guardians.

Jack Frost (Pine) is a mischievous sort, the sort who brings snow and ice to cold climates and provides children everywhere with snow days. When you’re hit in the face with a stray snowball that nobody can remember throwing, he’s likely to be the culprit. Nobody can see him, after all because nobody really believes in him. This depresses him somewhat.

But he has been chosen to be the newest Guardian by the enigmatic Man in the Moon (who never speaks). The current Guardians – Santa Claus (Baldwin), a buff Russian accented behemoth who answers to North and carries swords as well as candy canes, The Easter Bunny (Jackman) who speaks with an Australian lilt, tosses boomerangs and exploding eggs in battle and travels by magical portals through the underground; the Sandman, a pint-sized sleepy sort who visualizes his thoughts through sand and uses sandy whips to create creams, and the Tooth Fairy (Fisher) who commands an army of little hummingbird-like fairies that collect teeth in which childhood memories are stored – are aware that one of their own, the Boogie Man who also is known as Pitch (Law) who has spent centuries preparing for his own moment – to use the Sandman’s ability to create good dreams and perverting it to cause nightmares and fear. And as the kids of the world lose faith in their Guardians, the Guardians begin to disappear and lose their powers.

The lynchpin is Jack Frost, but he may not be up to the task. How can someone nobody believes in become a hero?

I kind of like the concept here, although I do admit that it likely posed all sorts of problems not only for the filmmaker but for William Joyce, the author of the children’s books that this movie was (loosely) based on. Creating characters that not only contain the traits that kids know and love about these legends but also are believable as a superhero team is a bit of a tricky prospect.

It doesn’t always work. Think of Super Friends with better animation, a reference which probably flies over the head of most kids whom this is aimed at and that’s just as well. The target audience has barely lived long enough to be in kindergarten.

There is plenty of color here and some truly magical moments, most of which have to do with visiting the homes of these characters. Santa’s workshop, for example, is staffed by Yeti toymakers (who look like the lovechildren of Bigfoot and Wilford Brimley) and elves who might remind some of the Minions of Despicable Me. The Easter Bunny’s warren has Pacific Island-looking stone heads, trees that dispense little eggs with legs that walk through a Willy Wonka-looking contraption that paints them. The Tooth Fairy’s castle is a cross between a Disney princess abode, a dentist’s office and Hogwarts’ Castle.

I’m not sure why Baldwin picked a Russian/Slavic accent for Santa – if he wanted to be a bit more accurate he might have gone Germanic with it but I suppose it might be a bit too easy to characterize Santa as a Nazi had he done that. In fact, most of the vocal work is pretty adequate and I do like some of the characterizations (like the flirtatious Tooth Fairy who has a thing for Jack’s teeth). The Easter Bunny is a bit impatient and trades barbs with Jack who is on the Bunny’s poo list for causing a blizzard a few Easters back.

Da Queen liked this a lot better than I did. She commented afterwards on the messages of working as a team, putting the greater good ahead of your own personal needs and the need for sacrifice – and it’s rare I admit that you see that sort of pointing towards selflessness in modern animated features which more often stress being true to yourself than being true to the world.

Still, I had trouble with the rather predictable story and it’s overuse of Jack’s angst as a plot point. There were also several superhero poses that were a bit incongruous – you know, the crouch with arms outstretched, staffs and swords pointed in aggressive poses. I suppose that the message that problems need to be solved with violence is also kind of ingrained in this – no attempt is ever made to negotiate with Pitch and his own issues, which get revealed late in the film, seem to be made light of because, by nature, Pitch is Bad which means that some people are naturally Bad and should be dealt with violently which I kind of had issues with. Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you will.

Even so this is solid entertainment that small kids will adore and their parents won’t feel is a burden for them to watch with their progeny. Be advised that although Santa is being marketed as a central character (which he is), this isn’t strictly speaking a Christmas movie so if you’re expecting one, you might leave disappointed.

REASONS TO GO: Kind of fun to see all those characters together. Visually inventive.

REASONS TO STAY: Story is much too predictable.

FAMILY VALUES:  The themes and some of the action sequences might be a little scary for the wee ones, especially if they’re impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the last DreamWorks Animation film to be distributed by Paramount. The company has signed a new contract with 20th Century Fox that begins in 2013.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100. The reviews are pretty decent.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Incredibles

EASTER LOVERS: .Part of the film takes place during the spring holiday, and we get a nice look at the Easter Bunny’s castle.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jolene

Hop


Hop

When Willy Wonka sees this, he's going to be contacting his attorneys.

(2011) Fantasy (Universal) James Marsden, Russell Brand (voice), Kaley Cuoco, Hugh Laurie (voice), Hank Azaria (voice), Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff, Tiffany Espensen, Chelsea Handler, Hugh Hefner (voice), Coleton Ray. Directed by Tim Hill

While Hollywood has produced its share of Christmas movies, Easter movies have not been quite so plentiful. Perhaps because Christmas is all about birth and Easter is all about death; opposite ends of the life cycle. Indeed, Easter time seems to be a time where movies like The Ten Commandments have held sway.

However, here’s one about the Easter Bunny which fills in some of the mythology. The Easter Bunny (Laurie) is the latest of a 4,000 year line (I know, I know – the screenwriters are a little deficient on math) and is eager to pass on his Eternal Egg – a kind of scepter that I the key to the Easter Bunny’s magic – on to his son, E.B. (Brand).

The problem is, E.B. has dreams of his own – he wants to be a rock and roll star, a drummer to be exact (and we all know that nobody thumps like a rabbit). Of course Dad finds this out and gets into a row with his son, forcing E.B to travel by convenient interdimensional transportation tube from Easter Island to Hollywood.

There he runs into (literally) Fred O’Hare (Marsden), the ne’er do well 30ish son of Henry (Cole) and Bonnie (Perkins). Henry is very hard on his son, and the parent in me says with good reason as Fred is directionless, living at home and turning down job after job a “bad fits.” In the meantime his over-achieving sisters, Sam (Cuoco) – the older sister, and Alex (Espensen), the younger – have become the apple of their parent’s eyes, while their son is in danger of becoming a disappointment.

While Fred continues to find himself, E.B. manages to get himself an audition on a talent show hosted by the venerable David Hasselhoff (playing himself) and is finally on the road to fulfilling his dream. Unfortunately, Pink Ninjas – the personal guard of the Easter Bunny (why he would need one is anyone’s guess) – are after E.B. to haul him back home in time for the ceremony in which the mantle is passed from father to son and Fred continues to create a further rift in his family dynamic. In the meantime Carlos (Azaria), an oversized chick and the Easter Bunny’s #2 is plotting a coup. Fred and E.B. ultimately discover that they are good for one another and that destiny can sometimes be a good thing.

This is a mix of live action and CG animation, and of late that has been a very, very bad thing indeed (think Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield). For whatever reason, studios seem to think that these sorts of movies should be completely dumbed down for kids. Personally, I don’t get it – we give children these sophisticated and clever fully animated movies that both kids and their parents can enjoy but when it comes to live action it becomes an endless, tedious Nickelodeon original episode.

Marsden is horribly miscast here. Not only is he much too old for the role, you get the feeling that he’s taken Botox in order to keep the smile frozen on his face because, left to its own devices, that face would be left in a frown of disdainful disgust. From being Cyclops in the X-Men franchise to this? A very sad fate indeed.

The animated portion, provided by the same people who did Despicable Me is the movie’s highlight. Their Easter Island settings are magical in the same way Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was decades ago. I could have spent a good long time exploring the candy factory of the Easter Bunny and do some taste testing of my own.

Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as reasons to see this go. The script is most decidedly unfunny, falling flat in nearly every attempt at humor and the story lacks tension. It just seems to meander a bit until coming to a painfully obvious conclusion.

There should be magic in a holiday movie and there just isn’t enough of it here. I think of something along the lines of The Polar Express when it comes to digitally enhanced holiday movies and Hop just doesn’t compare. You may wind up being dragged to a matinee for this movie this weekend. For once it will be the parents kicking and screaming when they are taken someplace they definitely don’t want to be.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the Easter Island backdrops are very nice.

REASONS TO STAY: Desperately unfunny, panders to the lowest common denominator, treats audiences like idiots – need I go on?

FAMILY VALUES: A bit of poo-poo humor here but nothing to get concerned over.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Browning doesn’t have a line of dialogue (despite being the lead character) until nearly twenty minutes into the film.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the digital imagery should be seen on a big screen and if you have little ones, you’re going to be dragged into the theater to see this anyway so might as well enjoy it.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Fanny, Annie and Danny