Gorgeous Use of the CG Animated Medium
2012’s Rise of the Guardians represents the middle of three William Joyce books that were turned into CG animated feature films (the others being Disney’s 2007 Meet the Robinsons and Blue Sky’s 2013 Epic) and is the only one to come from DreamWorks.
Unfortunately the film has the dubious distinction of losing money for the powerhouse studio- to the tune of an $83-million writedown for the quarter and the layoffs of 350 employees. This sad event would occur a year later with release of the film Turbo.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that by no means is this trend the fault of the film itself. Rise of the Guardians is a masterwork in the CG medium with remarkably interesting (if slightly miscast) characters, slick narrative, and a worthy moral inter-weaved tastefully throughout.
The story is primarily told through the perspective of an amnesic Jack Frost (Chris Pine) as he happens upon an ancient struggle for the power of belief from human children. When Pitch Black AKA The Boogeyman (Jude Law) resurfaces after being absent since the Dark Ages, humanity’s last hope, The Guardians, must reunite to prevent the balance between fear and hope from becoming forever lost to darkness. However, these Guardians are no mere mortals- comprised of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Sandman; the power of magic that comes from the belief of children everywhere is certainly on their side.
There has been some public dismay with the portrayal of some of these iconic characters here; particularly the Santa (Alec Baldwin) figure; given forearm tattoos (one arm representing naughty, the other nice), a Russian accent and a pair of swords and the Easter Bunny as indicated by a sarcastic, boomerang wielding sharp-tongued Australian (Hugh Jackman).
I would counter such complaints by reminding that we are being treated to a view of a rare side to these icons; that the core of this story is their value as resistance to the fear and darkness of doubt. The jovial and good halfheartedness of each of the characters is never discounted here, so much as we’re simply given the added perspective of their no-nonsense sides in times of crisis.
That being said, the film paces magnificently well and delivers its narrative with conviction. A few action segments feel a bit contrived so as to show off the muscle of their pixel-processing power/ potentially dazzle moviegoer with 3D effects, but as a whole the pieces of the film come together beautifully to make suspension of disbelief a very naturally occurring affair.
Then there is the look of the film. While impressive visuals do not a good movie make; Rise is proof that they can make an already good film amazing. DreamWorks accomplishes a feat here that’s only been attempted successfully a couple of times in the past even by masters-of-the-art Pixar: Life-like human models. So wonderful are the facial expressions and visual emotions of Jack Frost that at times it becomes easy to forget that what you are gazing upon is in fact just a computer graphic. Additionally texture work is impeccable from the spreading of ice crystals to the golden and black grains of dream sand, truly this is a piece that could only have been done justice in CG rendering.
There is no getting around the fact that this is a DreamWorks film, though, as unlike say Pixar; who make it a habit of crafting intricate plots out of the simplistic and mundane, this one requires loads of exposition and dialog across nearly every frame to get its message through. However, this is also only a film that DreamWorks could do properly; the weight of even one of the characters involved here is enough to send most filmmakers running, much less all of them bunched up into one tale. Yet somehow the piece finds a pretty interesting balance between them all.
I would like to conclude this review on a slightly higher note than it began- while it’s true it was considered a financial bomb in the box office, it did eventually overcome its initial budget (though failed to make a return on the money DW sank in marketing & promotion).. It did, however, end up bringing in a very lucrative return once it came to small screens in DVD and blu-Ray form. In fact, having cleared well over 5-million DVD unit sales by the end of 2013 alone, there’s a good chance many of the laid-off employees were once again able to return to work.
All in all, Rise of the Guardians manages to deliver a lush and genuinely interesting fantastical world for adults and children alike to escape to for a solid hour-and-a-half. A shame that its lackluster box-office performance is the most common association with the film because, when judged on its own merit, Rise of the Guardians is certainly a worthy entry in the CG animated feature film genre.