Jack Frost joins Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Sandman in a fight to safeguard the world’s children from the Boogeyman in Rise of the Guardians, a middling bit of winter-related animation.
Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine) comes into being one crisp night several hundred years ago, emerging from a pond with the ability to freeze water, make it snow and cover everything with lacy frost. Fast forward to present day, he’s become the king of snow days, helping kids with snowball fights and creating great sledding hills. And yet, sadly, not only do these sunny young faces not believe in Jack Frost, none of them even know he exists.
Up at the North Pole, Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Ilsa Fisher), Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and Sandman, who is less of a words guy and more of a pictures guy, do not suffer from such anonymity. Kids believe in them and, if they’re not careful, can even see them as they hide eggs or slip a coin under a pillow. But that belief isn’t a sure thing. Pitch (Jude Law), as in pitch black or the Boogeyman, shows up to remind them that all it takes is for children to lose faith for these magical beings to lose power or fade away all together. Not only is this bad for the Guardians, as these four are known, but it’s bad for the kids too. Santa et al bring hope, joy and happiness to children’s lives. Pitch, meanwhile, brings only hopelessness and fear. To help counter Pitch’s nefarious plans for spreading nightmares and sadness, the Guardians are told by the moon (yeah, the moon, it’s a whole thing, no need to get in to it) that there is a new Guardian — Jack Frost.
You know the deal: “you’re a new Guardian, no I’m not, yes you are, what are my powers, here is your task, I’m going to cowboy my own path, oh no everything’s ruined, but wait... “ Jack Frost also has a little Wolverine (from X-Men) element to his story in that he can not remember how he became Jack Frost. Will finding his true identity help him embrace his role as a guardian? Will your kids be ready to leave at least 20 minutes before the movie is over?
I think, to both, yes.
Rise of the Guardians, in addition to having a dull title, has some less than stellar animation (sometimes computer animated faces are interesting and expressive, sometimes they’re just creepy; here we’re about halfway in between), a draggy plot and an overall deficit of sparkle. There is a lot of comic and story-telling potential in bringing together well-known characters in a kind of fairy tale super-group (see, for example, ABC’s Once Upon a Time) but Rise of the Guardians never really has the kind of fun you’d expect. There are giggles, sure (Santa’s elves, little pointy-hat-wearing goofy creatures, would nicely fill out their own fun animated short and offer some of the movie’s cuter, more enjoyable moments, even if they do seem cribbed from blueprints for the Minions in Despicable Me). But there’s a lot of talk and angst and mythology-setting-up stuff in the mix, and it takes away from the adventure that you’d expect when you get Santa, the Easter Bunny and an X-treme snow-sports fan in one sleigh. (Jack Frost is an oddly slacker-dude-ish magical creature, complete with boy band hair and blue hoodie.) Not that I’d have wanted a joke-a-minute drumbeat that you so often find with DreamWorks Animation (e.g. the Shreks and the Madagascars), but some liveliness would have been nice.
And then there’s Pitch, a villain who is both vague (he wants to make everyone unhappy because...?) and about two notches scarier than you’d expect, particularly for the age group most likely to be interested in this movie (maybe ages 5 to 10). His drive to make every child’s dream a nightmare and generally cause them to live a life devoid of happiness and hope is really quite malevolent. But his motivation (roughly, that he is sick of being ignored) seems a little thin and he isn’t an enjoyable on-screen presence as the best villains are.
Rise of the Guardians seems timed to meet the needs of parents and kids looking for Santa-themed fun, but with its general dullness and bleak edge you’d be better off putting that money toward a DVD of last season’s holiday movie, Arthur Christmas. C
Rated PG for thematic elements and mildly scary action. Directed by Peter Ramasy with a screenplay by David Lindsey Abaire (from a book by William Joyce), Rise of the Guardians is an hour and 37 minutes long and distributed by DreamWorks Studio.