Christmas is never complete without a heart-warming festive film to put you in the spirit of the holiday and to excuse any extra mug of hot chocolate. This year, the ranks of vibrant Christmas animations, including The Polar Express (2004) and Arthur Christmas (2011), are joined by the latest from DreamWorks: Rise of the Guardians. Interestingly enough, this dazzling Christmas-flavoured animation doesn’t feature only the red-suited jolly fellow iconic for this time of year, but brings the Big Four all together – Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and the Easter Kangaroo…excuse me, the Easter Bunny, to battle every child’s biggest and darkest fear: the Bogeyman. Another curious detail? The movie is actually set during Easter time!
OK, you have not misunderstood – ROTG is indeed set during Easter, however, the film boasts enough snowball fights, peeks into Santa’s workshop and rides on Santa’s sleigh to create an authentic Christmas mood. The setting, of course, is more than peculiar considering the time year, but then again this film is nothing if not peculiar – Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin) is a hefty sword-wielding Russian with rocker-like tattoo sleeves on his forearms, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is a towering kangaroo-reminiscent Australian with a boomerang strapped to his chest, and the Sandman is a Yoda-like cutie who delivers the movie’s most spectacular special effects. The one hit-and-miss character is the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), who although holding the key (or the tooth, more like it) to Jack Frost’s memories and consequently to the denouement of the film, appears overly pixyish and girlish, and spends most of her time daydreaming about the aforementioned Mr. Frost.
And speaking of…Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is a cool spiky-haired teen bad boy, holding the record on Santa’s Naughty List, who however is revealed to have had a heartbreaking, pre-folk-hero, human existence that has determined his heroic destiny and purpose. Unaware of this, Jack has spent hundreds of years bringing joy to the children on snowy days, while trying to fight his Bourne-sque amnesia and to understand why nobody sees or believes in him. Things take an interesting turn when Jack is chosen by The Man on the Moon to be The Guardians’ latest recruit and help them fight the biggest threat they have ever faced – Pitch Black (Jude Law) a.k.a. the Bogeyman (who by the way, I have to agree with the review of Chris from Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, looks a lot like Hades from Disney’s Hercules!)
From then on, ROTG takes us on a spree of visual loop-the-loops, emphasizing a vivacious and detailed fantasy world, where everything whizzes and sparkles, and the imagery is as crisp as a Christmas morning. This wonderfully designed magical universe is skilfully constructed and comprehensive. It creates the impression that this is not just a setting, but a whole world, which exists beyond the particular story (a lot of material for sequels then?). Such an extensively drawn world serves as a trampoline for a hectic storyline, which unfortunately cannot provide enough screen time and interactions between all the characters. But since this is Jack Frost’s story of self-discovery after all and the rest of the mythic heroes are quite well-known, this one flaw can be overlooked. What cannot, though, is the fact that although the movie manages to pack so much under its hood, it ultimately does not make room for the one most important thing – Christmas (which is a shame, especially considering that Santa is right there!).
Rise of the Guardians brings this year’s dose of exuberant fantasia with a bow on top! From the playfully reinvented traditional folk heroes to the stunning visuals, from the more often than not laugh-out-loud jokes to the quirky supporting characters (e.g. the Tooth Fairy’s helpers “baby teeth”, Santa’s yetis and the Easter Bunny’s walking self-decorating eggs), from the enigmatic translucent opening to the firecracker finale – the ingredients for a delightful Christmas treat are all there, and everything looks amazing! There might be a few overlooked slip-ups and obscure details in the storytelling department, but for the gorgeously animated and briskly paced final product we get, and in the spirit of Christmas, we can surely forgive that!
4/5 Marvelous points