Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rise of the Guardians - Early Thoughts

Well after trying for over a month I finally got out to see this movie.  I’ll warn for spoilers in case there’s anyone else left who hasn’t seen it yet before it hits the DVD shelves.

At first I thought this film looked great just from the trailers, and I was right this film is gorgeous.  The backgrounds are great, the effects are great, and the character designs are great.  The characters themselves are also really interesting. 

I haven’t read the book series this is based on so I don’t know how much of their personalities come from the books or what was created by the film team, but however it was done the characters are awesome.   I think, apart from Jack Frost, my favourite is Santa Claus.  What a great re-interpretation of the character.  He still has the white beard and the big belly that make him iconic, but he also sports the naughty and nice lists on his arms as tattoos.  He battles with swords and has a great Russian accent.  I also love the elves and the yetis that work with him, and I also like the snow globe portals as a way for him to travel quickly in his sleigh.  Also I think having the Easter Bunny as a six foot tall badass was neat too, and a great contrast with the bright hopeful holiday he represents.  I even enjoyed him when he’s drained of his power and looks kind of like Thumper from Bambi.  Always have to get in those digs to Disney don’t you DreamWorks?  The Tooth Fairy was neat in design and concept, with having all the other fairy helpers to get the teeth, and I like that Sandman is a mute character.  A choice that’s not often made these days for characters in any film, but one that I think works great in animation because you have to use a lot of body movement and facial expressions to get across the thoughts of the character, and they do a great job with him. 

This brings us to the main character Jack Frost and my favourite character in the film.  I love his design, Chris Pine does an outstanding job with the voice, his character was explored and developed over the course of the movie, and his backstory was really tragic.  When Jack came out of the ice in the opening scene I immediately thought that he had died in his former life that he couldn’t remember and was reborn as Jack Frost, but to learn that he was protecting his sister and died as a result from that that was heart-wrenching.  I really like that his fun loving nature is a positive trait in this film as opposed to an impish character flaw that it is often shown as in other works.  It keeps him connected with kids and so makes him good at his job and a good guardian.  His fun centre is also interesting in how it contrast Jack and the villain Pitch.  It’s not just that Pitch, like Jack, can’t be seen and isn’t believed in, but that Jack uses fun, as shown in his backstory, to combat fear and that’s why he is so powerful against Pitch.

Pitch himself is really interesting, because he does have that connection with Jack and so his attempts to bring Jack over to his side actually make sense, as opposed to something he does just to show that the villain is evil and the good guy can show how righteous he is be refusing the offer.  Pitch has clear motivations and goals and they’re sympathetic in a way, because they are what Jack wants too.  He wants to be noticed and seen, it is the way he goes about achieving that that really makes him the villain. Finally I think it’s great that Pitch talks about how as the boogeyman he hides under the bed and the entrance to his lair is under an old bed.  

With all that said there is one thing I haven’t really commented on yet and it’s the thing that really keeps the film I think from being a modern masterpiece and that’s the plot.  The plot of this film is kind of meandering and doesn’t really build up to a proper point in its climax.  Pitch is revealed as the villain and the guardians confront him when he captures the fairies from Tooth Fairy and children stop believing in her.  But then the plot doesn’t really push forward all that much once this confrontation happens, or with the death of the Sandman either.  The guardians try to keep the kids believing by helping Tooth to collect teeth, and then again with Easter, but there’s never really any kind of talking or build up to a proper confrontation with Pitch.  In both cases, collecting the teeth and trying to have Easter, it’s all damage control.  No one says how they have to find a way to rescue the fairies because they can’t go collecting teeth every night indefinitely.  When Sandman is swallowed up by the nightmare sands there’s no great emotional drive from that event to do things differently.  They try to do with Easter what they tried to with the teeth, keep kids believing.  But there’s no plan of how to ultimately defeat Pitch and so the big battle at the end doesn’t work as well as it could have I think.  The characters are almost making things up as they go along and isn’t quite as satisfying as having some kind of plan of how to do something.   Also the defeat is kind of unsatisfying because I think there could have been good commentary made on how fear is necessary in the world.  That you need fear you just can’t let it take over your life, and none of that comes up so again the ending is a bit hollow.  Finally on a nitpicky note I hate Jack’s final line in the film.  Sure it ties back to his opening narration to bring things full circle, but I still think it’s really corny.

So despite my misgivings on the plot is this movie still good?  Absolutely.  It has great characters, great ideas, great effects and designs.  The voice work is great, the creativity and effort put forth by the people making this project was wonderful and a treat to watch.  While the bumps in the plot I think keep this film from being truly lasting I still think it deserves to be seen and I’ll certainly be adding it to my movie collection in the future.

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