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"RISE OF THE GUARDIANS"
(2012) (voices of Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: The Guardians of children's hopes and dreams - Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost - must band together to fight the Boogeyman.
PLOT:
For centuries, the Immortal Guardians have safeguarded the world's children, giving them hope and wonder and protecting their innocence and dreams. Kids like Jamie (voice of DAKOTA GOYA) still look for the approval and favor of such heroes as Santa Claus, or North (voice of ALEC BALDWIN); E. Aster Bunnymund (voice of HUGH JACKMAN); the Tooth Fairy, or Tooth (voice of ISLA FISHER); and the Sandman, or Sandy (a mute character).

In the modern day, though, an ancient evil has returned to spread despair over the land. His name is Pitch (voice of JUDE LAW), but parents have long called him the Boogeyman and told their kids that he doesn't really exist. He's just a bad dream. This has diminished his power, especially as the world's kids have become increasingly savvy since Pitch's last heyday in the Dark Ages.

A fifth Guardian, Jack Frost (voice of CHRIS PINE), is summoned to combat Pitch's evil. But he also has a problem with the fact that most of the world's children do not believe in him, which renders him invisible and alone. It also renders him vulnerable to Pitch's manipulations, especially when Jack learns that Pitch may hold the key to him finding out where he came from and who he was before becoming an Immortal.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
I'm not a great dad or even a very good one. But I really try and instill in my daughter a hopeful view of the world. At some point, I know cynicism will probably win out. But, for now, she still has that childhood sense of wide-eyed wonder whether it's waving to a shopping-mall Santa or waking up gap-toothed and finding a bit of cash money under her pillow from the Tooth Fairy.

These are the times to be cherished for her and for me. That's why I really try my best not to let her see too much of the pressures of the adult world. But recently, I hit one of my low points, stomped through the room where she was playing, and just blurted out, "The world just sucks, Maddie!" And without missing a beat, my girl looked at me and immediately replied, "No, it doesn't, Daddy. The world is a great place!" I, of course, felt ashamed. But her words immediately calmed me. My job is to make her world better, and instead she had made mine better. And I said to her, "You're right, honey. Daddy's just a big grump-a-lump today."

I can't wait to take her to see the new animated action flick, "Rise of the Guardians." This is a major surprise in that it offers one of the most hopeful views of childhood and of the importance of believing in a good and decent world that I've seen in some time. Some may call it "hokey" or "corny." But then those people are indeed true grump-a-lumps who have either 1) lost that sense of childhood wonder or 2) seen way too many movies.

The film is essentially a "Marvel's The Avengers" for the holidays in that it brings together Santa Claus (voice of Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher), Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine), and the Sandman (a mute character, but just delightful) to combat an ancient evil. That evil is Pitch (voice of Jude Law), who is essentially the Boogeyman. Pitch thrived in the Dark Ages when the world was superstitious and small-minded. But in the centuries since, parents have told their kids that there is no such thing as "the Boogeyman," that their bad dreams are just that bad dreams. "Now go back to sleep."

Pitch is furious at a world that has forgotten him, that doesn't even acknowledge his existence. And he has bided his time over the decades. He has stayed in the shadows, grown slowly powerful, and is now able to master a power formidable enough to destroy kids' belief in the aforementioned Immortals. He starts by capturing all of the Tooth Fairy's fairies. Kids around the world wake up one morning with teeth still under their pillows and no money. From there, he targets Easter and even takes steps to defeat the Sandman for dominion over kids' dreams.

Ultimately, it becomes clear that the only one who can pose a serious threat to Pitch is Jack Frost, an Immortal who has similarly been marginalized because of kids' lack of belief (or even knowledge) of him. Jack has another weakness. He can't remember who he was before he was an Immortal, and Pitch holds the key to unlocking that repressed memory.

"Rise of the Guardians" works on both an emotional and an intellectual level. If even as an adult you have tried to noodle through how a guy like Santa is able to traverse the globe and deliver toys to all of the believing girls and boys in one night, you'll find the answer both simple and ingenious in this film. Or, if you've ever wondered why it was SO important that the Tooth Fairy collect all the teeth from the world's kids and what she does with them, you'll delight at the reason put forth by this movie.

What you might find it hard to accept are the very different portrayals of these characters. Santa Claus as a tattooed, Russian-accented strongman who prefers to go by the name "North?" The Easter Bunny as a six-foot-tall Australian hare who likes to wing boomerangs at those who threaten his holiday? Jack Frost as a Peter Pan-like sprite who is bitter that the world's kids don't believe he exists even though he's the one who gives them snow days? It's all a bit much.

But you know what? I believed! After its first few dazzling minutes, I believed that this film would chart its own course and stick to that course to deliver something grand and quite wonderful. And it did. As a critic, you don't want to go purely off of audiences' reactions. But as the end credits started to roll at the screening I attended, the film got one of the loudest rounds of applause I've witnessed this year.

As a critic, I can tell you there are some marvelous little moments throughout that really added to my enjoyment. I love the little touch of having toys automatically turn on and start working as Santa walks by them. I liked the moment where Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy realize they are a bit out of touch because they spend so much time working to make children happy that they don't actually get to spend any actual time with kids.

As for my nitpicks, I have a few. Of course, I wish the film had a better title. "Rise of the Guardians" sounds like it's a sequel to that magic owl movie of a couple of years ago, "Legends of the Guardians." I'm actually surprised the studio didn't insist on a different title just for merchandising considerations. Also, Santa's elves behaved a little too much like the Minions of "Despicable Me." But when you consider that the Claus actually employs large Wookiee-like yetis to make the toys instead of the dim-witted little dudes, you can forgive the derivative slapstick.

"Rise of the Guardians" is an optimistic film for an increasingly cynical and pessimistic age. I really loved it. A film like this should be cherished, celebrated, recommended, and (yes) believed in. I give it an 8 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 10, 2012 / Posted November 21, 2012


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